Jennifer Lopez is very good at being very famous.
That might sound more like a circumstance and not a rarified skill, but that's just because she'd never let you see the work behind it. The same goes for her competence as a romantic comedy heroine. She might not always get the best material, but her rom-com charm is undeniable and even underrated 25 years after her breakout in "Selena." The only time we as a culture seem to consider a performance of hers especially noteworthy is when she's in something more "serious" (see: "Out of Sight," "Hustlers").
It's what makes "Marry Me," her new rom-com in theaters and on Peacock TV, so inspired. It allows her to lean into her utterly singular experience as a very, very famous person within the construct of her best genre. Though it says something that she, as pop star Kat Valdez, is the most believable part of the whole endeavor, a glossy and better-than-average fantasy about the pros of arranged marriage.
Now, "Marry Me" is not really pulling the curtain back on any dark secrets of celebrity, but it does play into Lopez's hopeless romantic persona within the confines of a PG-13 rating. Her Kat is a Lady Gaga-esque singer who has had some bad luck in the romance department, at least one divorce and one 48-hour marriage. She's supposed to marry Bastian (played by Colombian pop star Maluma) live in front of 20 million people as they perform their hit single "Marry Me," but right before she goes out on stage, draped in jewels, she (along with the rest of the world) sees a video of her intended cheating on her. Still, she's already got the dress and the venue, so she looks out in the audience, spots Owen Wilson's Charlie, and picks him to marry. It is the most movie rom-com set up that's ever existed, and this is a movie that wears its love for the genre on its sleeve with knowing references to everything from "Pretty Woman" to "Notting Hill."
Though she doesn't know it when she picks him, thankfully for Kat, Charlie is just a nice single dad to a sweet 13-year-old with a cool Brooklyn loft, a dog and a job as a high school math teacher. His baggage is minimal, his divorce amiable, he doesn't have a dark side and his flaws are ... unexplored. Is there eventual, inevitable, connection believable? No, not remotely. But you go along for the ride because Wilson is charming as a hangdog type and does enough with very little.
Directed by Kat Coiro, who did the pilot for the brilliant "Girls5Eva," and written by "Mindy Project" alum Harper Dill and "Catwoman" screenwriter John Rogers, "Marry Me" feels like an early aughts creation, right down to Kat's corduroy newsboy caps, back when studios used to regularly spend more than $20 million on the genre. It breezes along thanks to its cast, including Sarah Silverman doing some heavy comedic lifting as Charlie's co-worker; John Bradley, of "Game of Thrones" fame, who is a nice presence as Kat's manager Collin; and Michelle Buteau as a very Hollywood assistant.
There's some hilariously obvious product placement and also a few celebrity cameos, from Hoda Kotb to Jimmy Fallon (whose show is somehow always on in the background and whose alter-ego is noticeably meaner than his real life persona). How James Corden isn't in this might be the biggest mystery of all.
But "Marry Me" hangs on Lopez who is as glowing and glamorous as ever. Lopez, as they say, understood the assignment.
"Marry Me," a Universal Pictures and Peacock TV release, in theaters and streaming, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.