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Living La Vida J-Lo

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 11, 2022 5:00 am

One of life’s (if not love’s) enduring mysteries in the recent Jennifer Lopez rom-com Marry Me is how Owen Wilson can afford that Manhattan brownstone loft on a math teacher’s salary. It’s not a majestically huge apartment, but it seems out of his income range. It’s always puzzled me how Hollywood depicts human living conditions in big cities vis-à-vis actual human incomes.

So I looked it up. Average NYC math teacher income in 2021: $64,841. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment: $3,805. So you see, he’d be spending half his income on that small apartment. But maybe he cuts costs on his—let’s call it “basic”—math teacher wardrobe: rumpled cardigans over checkered flannel shirts with necktie. Hmm. Okay. I guess it checks out.

I digress, though. Marry Me is a fairly basic rom-com like the kind that were so prevalent in the ‘90s (when J-Lo first started making them), but it pairs the exceptional star power of La Lopez with the low-key (as opposed to Loki) charm of Owen Wilson, and the two actually have some good chemistry onscreen.

Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez pair up in Marry Me.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, it’s also tailor-cut to fit some of the details of Jennifer Lopez’s actual life: Kat Valdez is a huge pop star phenomenon engaged to Bastian (Colombian pop sensation Maluma), and they’re set to get hitched onstage in a huge, televised, globally viewed event that is guaranteed to explode brains worldwide in a tsunami flood of kilig. But wait… Her manager Collin (John Bradley, aka Sam in Game of Thrones) reluctantly shows her a “trending” video that’s just leaked: her Bastian trading tongues with Kat’s sister. Ew! Wedding off!

Kat has an attack of tearful soul-searching onstage before millions, and decides to go against her own instincts: she chooses some random guy from the audience (Wilson, playing Charlie Gilbert) and brings him onstage for a quickie wedding.

It’s a classic rom-com setup, except Owen is the Ugly Duckling, way outside the pampered and media-prepped life of La Lopez, with her 20 assistants and even more fabulous Manhattan apartment.

In the annals of “meet-cute” situations, this one seems a bit contrived, but for some reason (pity?), Charlie abandons all personal agency and free will and marches onstage and consents to the televised wedding with a rent-a-priest presiding. (All of this is in the trailer, by the way. No spoilers!)

Maluma and J-Lo also make a cute couple.

They both know it’s a social media event, isn’t supposed to last, is really a “revenge” wedding for Bastian’s truly deplorable behavior. But in the way of rom-coms, they hang out, discover things about each other’s worlds, learn to like one another a lot, and reach a few final impediments to happiness in the last 45 minutes.

It’s a classic rom-com setup, except Owen (he of the eternally floppy hair and busted-melon nose) is the Ugly Duckling, way outside the pampered and media-prepped life of La Lopez, with her 20 assistants and even more fabulous Manhattan apartment.

There are some possibilities for insight in Marry Me, what with its focus on a story (taken from a graphic novel) that resembles, on some levels, J-Lo’s celebrity life: she’s had questionable taste and luck in marrying men; she’s also a “north of 35” pop star who’s arguably at the height of her toned physique and industry powers (yes, we saw Hustlers); and she understands better than most the difficulties of remaining a woman of power in the industry. As her character Kat remarks, “It’s not about success; it’s about credibility.” J-Lo, in real life, has already gained all the cred her character seeks, though people often overlook her ease and confidence on-camera (Out of Sight is a great entry point). She’s got the chutzpah that comes from pushing herself to the top. The diva thing fits her easily.

The romantic comedy follows Lopez as Kat, a music superstar, who marries a complete stranger (Owen Wilson) during a concert after she finds out that her boyfriend Bastian (played by musician Maluma) is cheating on her.

As mentioned, the chemistry between Wilson and Lopez goes a long way in lending Marry Me some charm. It needs it. The material is not exactly the freshest. The script seems like it could have been pulled out of a dusty drawer from 1995, with some minor social media updates as tweaks. On the positive side, it’s a showcase for some occasional J-Lo dancing and singing (there’s even a theme song called Marry Me!), occurrences that actually fit the script in a kind of School of Rock way. There’s an attempt to get at some of the meatier issues, like why we choose the people we do in life, and how long-lasting relationships take time and patience, long past the sizzle and IG posting. But flat lines (Kat: “You can’t marry an idea”) and generic math-based advice (Charlie: “Sometimes you’ve just got to sit inside the problem until the answer comes to you”) do not help sharpen our perceptions. If anything, the dialogue suggests an “idea” of what an adult rom-com should be (idea in the Platonic sense, just as Kat and Charlie’s relationship is largely platonic).

However, on the plus side, it just might be the Valentine’s date movie you’ve been searching for since, oh, pre-pandemic times. The film is at least unabashedly romantic — not in the “Let’s get married onstage” way, but in its old-fashioned insistence that rumpled flannel shirts and cardigans beat close-trimmed beards and neck tattoos, hands-down.

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Marry Me, released by Universal Pictures International, is now showing.