- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
There’s no shortage of amour streaming this Valentine’s weekend, with the J-Lo-led rom-com “Marry Me” on Peacock and the ensemble farce “I Want You Back” on Amazon Prime. As with lovers, it’s easy to favor one over the other. Neither is going to replace “The Princess Bride” or “Notting Hill” in your heart, but the “right one” is emphatically clear.
That would be “I Want You Back,” a not-as-clever-as-it-thinks gambit in which two recently dumped 30-somethings conspire to perform their own version of “Strangers on a Train” by agreeing to do in their respective exes’ new romances. Neither Emma (Milton native Jenny Slate) nor Peter (a never better Charlie Day) stops to ponder that their preposterous crisscross plot, once executed, may not guarantee the “loves of their lives” will automatically return to them. I guess we’re expected to accept that they will, in hopes of avoiding further complicating an already convoluted script by “This Is Us” showrunners Isaak Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger.
They trust we’ll blindly follow along, a presumption I’m not fond of, but one you'll yield to under the charming spell cast by Day and Slate. The latter has the easier time of it, as her funny and understatedly sexy Emma is just too irresistibly seductive for Manny Jacinto’s overly intense middle school drama teacher, Logan. He’s rendered powerless when she comes between him and his new squeeze, fellow faculty member and Peter’s ex Anne, played with requisite sexual repression by “Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez.
South Shore Oscar night: Quincy native nabs second Academy Award nomination
Day’s assignment is considerably more opaque and much harder to make sense of. We’re expected to believe Peter can drive Emma’s ex, hunky fitness instructor Noah (the always wooden Scott Eastwood), away from the welcoming arms of entrepreneurial pastry chef Ginny (Clark Backo), by simply befriending the lovable jock. What?
Kudos to director Jason Orley (“Big Time Adolescence”) for deftly keeping so many balls in the air, juggling among Peter and Emma’s covert attacks on their respective targets, while also developing the pair's own simmering attraction to one another. Where this is headed will surprise no one. There are times you want to shout, “Get on with it!” But Day and Slate possess such easy, unaffected chemistry that you oblige.
Both actors deliver exemplary performances, hitting their comedic notes as precisely as their dramatic ones. Plus, both get to sing, and sing well, especially Slate, who aims straight for the tear ducts when Emma belts out “Suddenly, Seymour” after her sudden ascension to understudy for the lead, Audrey, in the middle school’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Smashing! The rest of the cast, alas, is reduced to types at best, and props at worst. No matter, it’s Day and Slate we desire. And both fully fulfill our search for love.
Art imitates life in 'Marry Me'
Alas, the same cannot be said for Jennifer Lopez’s shameful vanity project, “Marry Me,” in which she is basically playing J-Lo, a middle-aged performer who is a favorite obsession of the celebrity press. To satisfy them, and a rabid fan base, her Kat Valdez (K-Val?) agrees to promote her new hit, “Marry Me,” by wedding her duet partner, Bastian (Maluma, lacking in his acting debut), on live TV before a sold-out (an apt description of this entire enterprise) crowd at Madison Square Garden. Before you can say “Larry Fortensky,” Bastian is outed on social media as a cheater and Owen Wilson’s unassuming middle school math teacher, Charlie Gilbert, is randomly selected from the audience to take his place at the “altar.” After all, the show must go on.
Director Kat Coiro (“Life Happens”) presents this quick switch as if it’s the most natural occurrence in the world. She then amplifies the absurdity by staging various pre-fab photo ops featuring the couple (bowling, red carpets, mathalons) in an attempt to sell the concocted romance. Naturally, the ruse becomes “reality,” and the two must negotiate the complications of their conflicting lifestyles. Not a lick of it is remotely believable, a liability compounded by a trio of screenwriters determined – more likely directed – to slip in multiple plugs for corporate offshoots of the film’s distributor, NBC-Universal.
That’s synergy, but certainly not energy, as “Marry Me” flags and frustrates. Other than the half-dozen songs performed superbly by J-Lo, the movie offers zero redeeming moments. Instead, it caters to J-Lo’s ego with repeated scenes of sycophants, including Charlie and his preteen daughter, Lou (Chloe Coleman), telling K-Val how wonderful and beautiful she is. Missing amid the superfluous hosannas is any semblance of character development or coherent storytelling. It’s just J-Lo dressed to the nines in fabulous gowns designed to contrast with Wilson’s schlumpy duds. And … well, not much else. “Marry Me”? I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll move on.
Rating: PG-13 for some language, suggestive material
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and Mamula
Director: Kat Coiro
Writers: Harper Dill, John Rogers
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Where to watch: In theaters and on Peacock starting Feb. 11.
'I Want You Back'
Rating: R for language and sexual situations
Cast: Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, Gina Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto and Clark Backo
Director: Jason Orley
Writers: Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Where to watch: Amazon Prime.
Thanks to our subscribers, who help make this coverage possible. Please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Patriot Ledger subscription. Here is our latest offer.
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: 'I Want You Back' 'Marry Me': Two rom-coms to stream this Valentine's