As long as there have been moving pictures, audiences have wanted them to display pretty people laughing and falling in love together. It’s simple human nature. Unfortunately, there has seemingly been a decline in the popularity of romantic comedies over the last decade. The 1980s into the 2000s defined the modern rom-com as Hollywood churned out hit after hit. When you ask someone their favorite rom-com, if they don’t answer with one from this era, they’re at least sorting through a list saturated with films from this period.
This momentum tapered off into the 2010s as audiences saw fewer romantic comedies grace the silver screen. The rom-com is a very structured genre and each movie plays out in a similar way, so maybe the formula had finally exhausted itself. Maybe it’s because, with the advent of streaming, audiences prefer the at-home rom-com experience to the theatrical one, even if those are often ailed with the production value and budget of a direct-to-tv movie and become lost among the sheer volume of streaming originals. Yet, somehow, Marry Me from director Kat Coiro and based on the graphic novel by Bobby Crosby found its way to theaters (and Peacock).
This is, in part, because Marry Me is very reminiscent of the classic early 2000s rom-com. Most notably, it employs the star power of known pop singer Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, who starred in the well-known early 2000s romcoms Maid in Manhattan and Wedding Crashers respectively. In Marry Me, Lopez plays Kat Valdez, a pop star who commits to marrying fellow pop musician Bastian, played by real-life singer and songwriter Maluma, live and in concert. Unfortunately, minutes before she’s set to marry him to their hit song “Marry Me,” she finds that he has been cheating on her. Having somewhat of a nervous breakdown on stage, she instead impulsively decides to wed a random person in the crowd, Wilson’s Charlie Gilbert. He goes along with it in the moment, but as a single-father and math teacher, he has reservations about the pairing’s long-term viability. Either way, they choose to commit to the partnership, at least temporarily, to save face for PR and make a statement about the nature of marriage and love.
To fans of romance, the premise of Marry Me neatly fits within the fake relationship trope. Although the marriage of convenience has been used as a storytelling device in romance far longer than film has been around, it’s usually referred to as a trope. Into the digital age, an obscene amount of romance is consumed via fan fiction or self-published original stories on sites such as Wattpad, and the medium is reliant on matching readers with stories they would be interested in by using the right descriptors to search for. These descriptors, “tags”, could be “tropes”, buzzwords, or other shorthands to describe a feeling evoked or storytelling device deployed – #fakedating, #marriageofconvenience, #fadetoblack, #fluff. Because it’s easy to search for a specific trope, it’s equally as easy to see how popular it is. Marry Me‘s primary trope, fake dating/fake marriage (associated with forced proximity), is currently very popular in publishing as well, so much that the concept is associated with its recent craze. That grants Marry Me a modern feel even if it follows other established and rigid structures of the genre.
For as popular the fake dating trope is, there’s one glaring issue that its many stories struggle with. Those are the stakes. All romance requires the suspension of belief, but there are very few instances where one could imagine the stakes being so dire as to necessitate faking a relationship, especially a fake relationship wherein the two parties spend enough time with each other to fall in love. Marry Me‘s stakes, while outlandish, work well within the context of the story. It’s palatable, it’s believable, and it adds weight. It’s rare to see a fake dating narrative that is so self-aware it strengthens the story, acknowledging the transactional nature of their relationship and marriage in general.
Beyond its premise, Marry Me is a very standard rom-com. It does not subvert, it does not shake the table, it does not experiment. If anything, it leans fully into the comforting aspects of the genre. Kat is kind and charming despite her wealth and fame, and Charlie is understanding and sensitive. Both are fully realized characters, both as a result of dimensional performances and onscreen development. They each have their respective arcs that they must grapple with, but it’s never malicious or hurtful. It’s just a movie about two nice people falling in love. From its structural familiarity and rare kindness comes comfort. Yes, everyone knows what plot beats are coming, we have seen many scenes similar to these before, though that’s a feature, not a bug.
The only place where its conformance to traditional structures harms Marry Me is into its third act. Seasoned romance watchers will know what is coming, the third act wedge that splits the couple apart. At that point, everything is progressing so swimmingly that any conflict added to their relationship would feel forced and weird. And it does! The conflict in the third act does not meld well into the narrative. If any of the characters had more bite, it could have come across better, but it is difficult to produce believable discord when so much of the film was tuned at fluffier emotional frequency. It’s an unfortunate trade off, but the film operates much better as a feel-good story, so it’s worth the poorly-manufactured-conflict induced eye-roll. If anything, the song present during the emotional montage in the third act, “On My Way (Mary Me)”, is the best of the movie and warrants the awkward path leading to it.
If you’re a fan of the traditional rom-com, congratulations! You’ll probably like Marry Me. There are some beautiful dresses, adorable moments, occasional chuckles, and enjoyable songs. Both Lopez and Maluma contribute to the soundtrack, Maluma with smooth Spanish-language entries and Lopez with entries that, while right for the film, feel dated by a few years. As for the performances, Lopez and Wilson are charming and play off each other well. Although it isn’t hot and heavy, it is heartwarming and soothing. This is not the film that will revitalize the genre, but it is one that reminds us why romantic comedies are beloved.