‘Marry Me’ is a thoughtful, sweet romance from an earlier moment

Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

8/10 Marry Me is a romantic fairy tale set vividly in the real world. It’s detailed, thoughtful and pleasant.

Manhattan- International megastar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez, who also produces) is set to marry her performing partner, similarly massive star Bastian (Maluma), onstage in a performance of their smash hit “Marry Me,” but just as she’s being lifted onstage for the climactic performance of both song and vows, she learns he’s been cheating. Dazed, she selects Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), a disinterested middle school math teacher at the concert to impress a daughter he’s trying to earn custody of but holding a sign that reads “Marry me,” out of the audience to become her new husband. Out of a complicated combination of prior dissatisfaction, genuine attraction and respect and an attempt to minimize her humiliation, Valdez and Gilbert try to make things work.

Most of Marry Me’s brilliance is anchored in its premise, this crisp and often dark intersection of public and private love lives and all the sub-conflicts that come with it – the performative elements of romance and how having an actual audience changes them, the commodification of celebrities’ private lives, the mundanity and office-like banality behind the scenes of the entertainment industry as performers put themselves on the line.

As Valdez processes that she’s been betrayed and publicly humiliated and she must decide how to handle it at that very moment, the camera hovers on unaware musicians and backup dancers boredly performing their parts as rehearsed. The wedding’s paid for, the millions of guests are present, and there’s no room for the human event taking place. You can almost hear the kind of people who make sludge like “American Idol” and “The Bachelor” top-performing television squeal with glee at the unexpected celebrity drama from behind the thousands of lights and cameras.

I’m reminded of Marriage Story in that the romantic in me wants Gilbert to pounce, to say, “I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re obviously in distress and I’ll do whatever I need to see you through this,” but he doesn’t. He’s got his own priorities, and it’s arguably more romantic to watch he and Valdez adjust to each other.

Recent movies like Tom and Jerry and Clifford the Big Red Dog appeared to be on vacation in Manhattan, sending a second unit to the Park for a weekend and CGI-ing the rest of the movie into that footage and sound-stage interiors. Marry Me actually lives in Manhattan. It is bathed in the magic and madness of cramming that many people from that many walks of life and with that degree of wealth inequality together.

From Valdez’ spacious condominium, which appears to have really been filmed at the 111 W. 57th St. tower, we can see her rising above the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Park and can clock the real towers of Billionaires Row in the background. The clean whites and restrained golds of her condo give way to grungy greys at street-level, a city that appears not dirty, but lived-in. What really makes Marry Me a special film is the contrasts aren’t just for dramatic effect, they are the real sickness that splits society at this moment in time.

The movie works hard to find the common anxieties between its leads, even at such massive scale. This is Valdez’ fourth marriage and Gilbert’s second, and they each have the confident caution of lovers who’ve been around the block. Complementing the rest of the film’s realness, it usually feels like a real couple trying to work out a real relationship.

For Lopez, a star resurgent after transcendent performances in 2019’s Hustlers and Superbowl LIV, Marry Me is a new front in her daring campaign against time. It’s been painted as her trying to resurrect the rom-com, though it isn’t much of a comedy at all, and also a multimedia project – she and Maluma produced a full original album for the movie, with “Pa’ Ti” debuting at no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs list, a career-best for Lopez. The spotlight that’s snapped back onto her is brighter than ever, and she hasn’t taken a loss since it returned. 

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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