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Tharidi Walimunige | February 10, 2022

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s time to brush off that cynicism clinging to your shoulders and embrace the pastel pink, cotton candy sappiness of a good old rom-com. That’s right, tis the season of Hollywood gifting you outlandish tales of hopeless romantics finding “The One”. Edging out the competition to claim the title of most anticipated (or at least most promoted) rom-com gracing the silver screen pre-Valentine’s Day of 2022 is Marry Me.

The film stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez, who has great timing to be playing a rom-com heroine right after reuniting with old flame Ben Affleck after 18 years separated. If that isn’t the stuff of Hollywood romance, I don’t know what is. The premise of the story is that mega pop superstar Kat (Lopez) is about to exchange marriage vows with her partner at a live streamed concert when she learns of his cheating ways. Cue Charlie (Wilson) in the crowd holding a sign saying “Marry Me” and voila! Boy meets girl (on stage in front of millions), boy kisses girl (to hastily salvage a publicity event), boy and girl live happily ever after? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie yourself to find out!        

Part of the reason why I’m a sucker for romance movies is because of the common milestones I never get tired of. While other genres often face flack for employing cliches and a lack of fresh material, the romance genre easily gets away with it since the tropes are what we love about these kinds of films. The push and pull, the hijinks that have the lovers crashing into each other’s orbit time and time again and the sickeningly sweet gestures of affection that we all wish would actually happen to us in real life. These elements are the bread and butter of rom-coms and they never get old. So, it’s with a fondly exasperated grin that I write to tell you that yes, Marry Me is littered with all the tropes you know and love. From a prom night to a pursuit through an airport, this film adopts cliches from its predecessors and breathes freshness into them. Whether it’s undercutting through comedic silliness or grounding in layered meaning, the film’s writing kept me on my toes by subverting my expectations and doing a new spin on the old classics.

While the scenarios characters got themselves into were very entertaining, it is absolutely the two lead characters that are the highlight of Marry Me. Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson have great chemistry; they play off each other with natural charisma and bucket loads of likeability. The dynamic of their characters—one being a superstar and the other a math teacher—makes for endearing interactions only possible with a pair of unlikely lovers. Lopez and Wilson, each commanding acting presences in their own right, match so well that they share the spotlight without ever overshadowing the other. Forget the plot, I think the warmth and genuine affability Lopez and Wilson imbue into their characters is enough to have you invested in their love story. Kat and Charlie would easily join the ranks of loveable rom-com protagonists. The scenes with just the two of them were by far my favourite, though there’s not as much of that as I would’ve liked.         

The film juggles too many subplots and jumps from plot beat to plot beat quite quickly at times, resulting in a somewhat clunky pacing. For a narrative that really only had one job— to explore a blossoming relationship—there were various other plot points, secondary characters, and spectacles featured that were unnecessary. Their presence meant that the bond between Kat and Charlie didn’t have as much time to marinate in tenderness as I hoped for. The relationship develops through short scenes at a fast pace. The “getting to know each other” element that is often the best part of a rom-com had to compete with scenes introducing secondary characters and their intentions, exploring the contrasting lifestyles of Kat and Charlie, and a plethora of music performances. Ultimately, I think the film could’ve benefited from some breathing room between the high-tension scenes. Longer moments where Kat and Charlie just get to fall in love without the hubbub around them would’ve made their love story even more tender and emotionally investing.       

In a similar vein, I wish the film had devoted less screen time to the one-note secondary characters. There were simply too many of them vying for attention by popping up every so often to deliver one-liners or drive Kat and Charlie towards each other. The comedic relief that forms the basis of these characters doesn’t always hit the mark, further lessening their impact. A film can never devote equal time and effort to both the primary and secondary characters. However, I feel that if the film wasn’t going to flesh out the secondary characters, then it should’ve reduced the number of them or repurposed the screen time they were given towards the development of Kat and Charlie’s bond.       

To reflect the fast-tracked and high-profile frenzy of Kat and Charlie’s blooming relationship, Marry Me adopts the aesthetics of social media into its cinematography. Several times throughout the film, the screen displays features familiar to platforms such as Instagram and Snapshot. The frame is broken up into thirds as if you’re watching across three different smartphones recording the action. User comments pop up at the bottom and love-hearts float to the top to represent likes. The social media aesthetic is both visually intriguing as well as an inventive way to tell parts of the story without relying on standard cinematic form. I enjoyed being an active viewer, frantically reading the comments that pop and fade in seconds while keeping track of three different screen angles. My only critique with this feature is that I wish the film had gone a step further and delved into the effects of social media on Kat and Charlie’s journey. The narrative gives you glimpses into how invasive and vapid media outlets can be, especially for those in the limelight. Although it’s a prevalent feature of both the cinematography and the plot itself (after all, a social media post is the inciting incident that spurs Kat to kickstart her interaction with Charlie), I think the film could’ve done more in exploring how the media influenced and interfered in this love story. From anonymous hate comments to nosy paparazzi, Marry Me was getting there but ultimately missed the landing in adding another layer of meaning by exploring how the constant scrutiny associated with Kat’s celebrity status impacted ordinary Charlie. Without this, the film overall lacked a degree of tension and stakes, with the whole situation of Kat and Charlie’s opposing lifestyles colliding together developing without much fuss.

Finally, I thought I’d end on a positive by gushing about the film’s glitz and glam. Jennifer Lopez rocks some truly amazing outfits and boasts a plethora of costume changes. If nothing else, you’ll leave the cinema with an appreciation for Kat’s wardrobe. Whether she’s performing on stage or lounging in the luxurious comfort of her penthouse apartment, the enviable lifestyle of the rich and famous that we all love to have a peek into is very much displayed for audience’s eyes to feast on. Beyond it being a visual treat, the costuming effectively demonstrated the contrast of Kat and Charlie’s backgrounds, with Kat’s glitter and high-end brands clashing with Charlie’s humble plaids and denim. A lot of time is afforded to establishing Kat as a performer, with long scenes of her on stage, attending red carpets and creating music in the studio. These scenes feature beautiful outfits, eye-catching sets and a soundtrack of bangers. Lopez’ musical involvement was central to Marry Me’s advertising and the prioritisation paid off, with the high-quality songs being a major draw for the film. From the titular song ‘Marry Me’ to the heartfelt ‘After Love’, Lopez’ impressive vocals will have you leaving the cinema humming under your breath. It’s in these moments that Kat fades away and you’re left watching Jennifer Lopez in her element—a truly awe-inspiring experience.

The central message of the film is about taking chances in love and life because who knows what you might miss out on if you never dare. Marry Me’s plot oozes with this sentiment and the film’s strength is the time and attention given to establishing this moral core. It’s a message that reaffirmed what I love about Marry Me and rom-coms in general—hope and courage aren’t easy to come by, sometimes they don’t save you from suffering, but persisting with them can reward you with the greatest of happiness. Marry Me may be Hollywood’s latest effort to tempt your money-filled hands this consumerist holiday of love, but it has all the warm and fuzzies to bring a smile to your face this Valentine’s Day.  

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Tharidi Walimunige

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