‘Marry Me’ and Jennifer Lopez’s Romantic Comedy Church Decoding

When Jennifer Lopez gave us the wonderfully intricate performance her longtime fans have always known she could deliver in 2019’s “Hustlers,” you might have expected her to at least temporarily hang up doing rom-coms. frothy that buried her acting lineup for so many years. . (You probably don’t need a recap given their massive popularity, but these included “The Wedding Planner,” “Maid in Manhattan,” and “Monster-in-Law”). But now, after a truly mind-numbing Oscar snob for “Hustlers,” she’s back with another addition to her sweet rom-com universe: “Marry Me.”

And at this point in Lopez’s life and career, it’s hard not to wonder why the multi-hyphenated star – who is also a producer, recording artist and business mogul – continues to cling not just to the genre, but to the same fairy tale iteration. . The answer to this may have more to do with Hollywood prejudice and the cohesive narrative around her stardom that has followed her over the past three decades than any ideal she perpetuates on her own.

Even in the months and weeks leading up to “Marry Me,” the media latched onto every bit of information Lopez leaked about her rekindled and widely adored relationship with Ben Affleck. Few stories miss the chance to also mention her many romantic disappointments (including her recent broken engagement to Alex Rodriguez), describing a sympathetic tale of her being unlucky in love, paired with one that implies that she moves and quickly.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck arrive for a special screening of ‘Marry Me’ at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles on February 8.

VALERIE MACON via Getty Images

You can find that same sentiment encoded at any time in Lopez’s public life. Do you remember ex-husbands Ojani Noa, Cris Judd and Marc Anthony? Bennifer version one? And how she got out of her romance with Puff Daddy soon after their double arrest in 1999? But he seems to have an added function these days, now that she has even more money, more fame and more Hollywood influence which has given her the right to show off her expensive jewelry, designer clothes and her social media six pack.

Because people don’t try so hard to tear down Lopez anymore. On the contrary, it’s almost as if they want to live vicariously through it and even look to it to provide them with whatever joy they might crave, especially through the image of a quaint romance. the Recent New York Times profile on Lopez asks if she can actually “save the romantic comedy,” a genre that has long been a punching bag for movie elitists. time is calling “the patron saint of romantic comedies.”

Even Lopez can’t help but jump on board with this narrative: “People like to see me do these rom-coms.” she recently said on “The view”. “But I honestly believe that these movies, especially at a time like right now, really give hope. At the end of the day, life is really about loving someone, finding someone to spend your life with. , to be happy.

But being the so-called patron saint of romantic comedies for her also meant fitting into a very specific ideal that caters heavily to the white gaze, which has largely controlled these narratives about Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) and Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) in "Marry me."
Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) and Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) in “Marry Me”.

Photo credit: Barry Wetcher

“Marry Me” is no exception. In it, she plays what is supposed to be a version of herself – a glamorous singer named Kat navigating the scrutiny of stardom with three failed marriages under her belt. She’s about to get married once again, to fellow recording artist Bastian (Maluma), when she finds out he cheated on her the very day they planned an extravagant and very audience (with the movie’s main song, of course).

Thwarting another breakup track, she finds — and inevitably falls in love — with a random guy in the audience at the ill-fated concert (Owen Wilson) and marries him instead. Comedy and charm of course ensue as the fabulous singer and Charlie Gilbert of Wilson, a single father and math teacher, fall in love for real.

As enjoyable and cute as “Marry Me” is, it’s also plagued by some major issues in Lopez’s rom-com church. On the one hand, his character always falls in love with a white man (see “Second Act”, “The Back-Up Plan”, the upcoming “Shotgun Wedding”, and any of his aforementioned films for more evidence). Honestly, few others could compare to the average energy level of a white man that Wilson gives in this movie, although he’s still fun to watch.

The director has also almost always been a white man, with the exception of Wayne Wang, who directed “Maid in Manhattan.” The fact that “Marry Me” has a female director (Kat Coiro) and is co-written by a woman (Harper Dill) is certainly worth celebrating and makes a huge difference in how the scenes are shot and the overall female goal. But a female director of color could have authenticated some aspects more and pushed back on others, like the fact that the only time Lopez has a non-white love interest in a rom-com is a toxic, predictable man she leaves. for a white man. .

Bastian (Maluma) and Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) in "Marry me," directed by Kat Coiro.
Bastian (Maluma) and Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) in “Marry Me”, directed by Kat Coiro.

Photo credit: Barry Wetcher

It may seem subtle or insignificant, but these things matter when we talk about the white gaze and white feminism. Who benefits? Who is it for ? Lopez has gained a level of power that few other people of color have in Hollywood, and has his own production company with fellow Latinx talent Benny Medina, but hasn’t branched out into romantic comedy on the big screen like she has with her TV shows like “The Fosters” and “Good Trouble.”

It’s easy to suggest that she might just simply not be interested in reshaping the Hollywood look, which of course would be problematic. But we already know the racist structure of the industry, as well as the predominantly white voices that dictated the narrative of his career and his life. So, couldn’t it be that she might not have been able to really break into a stuffy showcase as the patron saint of the (white) rom-coms she was cast in?

If we were to take Kat’s words in “Marry Me” to heart, even though she says that after all the hard work she’s done, and as happy as she’s made so many others feel, she doesn’t have not received the accolades or credit it long deserved. She doesn’t even control her own narrative. And no matter how in love with love she is, there will always be someone like Jimmy Fallon, who plays a version of himself in the film as a late-night entertainer, a white man, which will make her the punchline.

Maybe she’s seen less of the joke than many thought she was earlier in her career, but with “Marry Me,” Lopez actually seems to be dealing with, and at times supporting, tough narratives about herself and his stardom unlike what we have seen before. Maybe it’s the new title.

Jerry B. Hatch