Not long ago, megastar Jennifer Lopez stunned skeptics and devotees alike with her turn in “Hustlers” as Ramona, a stripper with a clandestinely lucrative operation. Deserved Oscar chatter ensued, and though the Academy ultimately denied her recognition, Lopez walked away with a few critics’ awards and a renewed reputation as a multifaceted performer.
With such bona fide praise as recent precedent, watching the insipidly banal “Marry Me” — a feature-length promotional video passing as a romantic comedy, of which she also serves as producer — elicits utter disappointment.
This adaption of the graphic novel by Bobby Crosby, directed by episodic-TV veteran Kat Coiro, sees one of the most popular women on the planet fall in love with a run-of-the-mill but kind man whose unremarkable life offers her the emotional grounding she lacks.
Lopez plays Kat Valdez who, much like herself, is an uber-famous pop songstress with parts of her private life inevitably playing out in the public eye. It doesn’t help that she feeds the media circus. Turning her love life into a publicity stunt, she decides to marry her similarly successful bad-boy boyfriend Bastian (Colombian singer Maluma, recently the voice of a small part in “Encanto”) during one of her concerts for her fans to witness.
But in the fog of disillusion over infidelity, she sees math teacher Charlie (Owen Wilson) in the crowd and weds him instead. Kat’s team runs with the spontaneity saying the couple will get to know each other over the next few months. What follows consists of a series of hackneyed dates that juxtapose their worlds: Charlie cares for his preteen daughter Chloe (Chloe Coleman) while Kat juggles shows and appearances.
There are hints of meta intentions in some of the concerns Kat voices about her multiple failed marriages and how no one understands the perils of fame. (Lopez’s recent separation from longtime partner Alex Rodriguez and the rekindling of her relationship with Ben Affleck come to mind.) Later, when she says, “You know I’ve never been nominated for anything,” one can’t help but imagine this is a direct reference to her Oscar snub.
But even if the mediocre screenplay for “Marry Me” emanated from source material published in 2020, the movie functions as rote nostalgia. It’s as if someone had picked up a screenplay too generic to produce back in the 1990s and decided to embellish it with modern references about living our lives online.
There’s still a skeleton of trite dialogue and interchangeably witty supporting characters (Sarah Silverman pops up a few times as Charlie’s lesbian friend, Parker) underneath the glossy façade. A subplot about Chloe’s stage fright in a math competition aims to resonate with Kat’s own shaky confidence despite having a job that demands a thick skin, yet this narrative thread plays as flimsy alongside the many clichés.
Maluma’s rather limited acting abilities, noticeable in whatever language he is speaking, make everyone else seem genius in comparison. But even Wilson puts in the bare minimum of what’s required for the part of a boringly nice father wrapping his head around the dream scenario in which he finds himself.
Surrounded by all these average co-stars, Lopez dazzles on stage, putting on a show of dance and vocal energy as she performs Kat’s songs (which are of course her own new tracks) or in a sequence that shows her in the studio recording the moving ballad “On My Way.”
Package notwithstanding, the songs (including the title single “Marry Me” and “Pa Ti” ft. Maluma) have chart potential in their catchiness, and these mini-music-videos written into the plot let us momentarily escape the film’s other below-average offerings. Though scarce, there are a few salvageable scenes where Lopez’s charisma, which she has aplenty, comes through unencumbered, and that’s when one wishes even more that this outing were better.
Further proof that promoting Lopez’s music was a goal built into the equation emerges in the indistinguishability of the stock score (by John Debney, “American Underdog”) from countless other, similar movies. From a visual standpoint, the only attempt at adding any sort of aesthetic uniqueness to this painfully bland affair comes in the form of cell-phone screens live-streaming on social media, reinforcing Kat’s constant exposure to public scrutiny.
The most commendable trait “Marry Me” comes from changing the ethnicity of Crosby’s original protagonist and her toxic love interest to feature Lopez and Maluma. Although there’s been progress, it remains rare for formulaic Hollywood releases to star Latinos. But just as with the Camila Cabello–led “Cinderella,” diversity alone doesn’t guarantee great storytelling or character development, although it does somewhat broaden the stories where Latina protagonists can exist unquestioned or at least not strictly tied to their ethnic identity as their whole personality.
A business woman with a well managed career spanning several decades, Lopez can write this one off as a marketing ploy to showcase some new potential hits, remain present on our screens, and target the Valentine’s Day moviegoing crowd with the film equivalent of a single red rose and a cheap teddy bear from a 24-hour pharmacy. It’s better than nothing to mark the cheesy holiday, but the lack of effort shows.
“Marry Me” opens in US theaters and on Peacock Feb. 11.