Marry Meta

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results. And that’s how I felt watching Marry Me for the second time – insane. 

Marry Me tells the story of a dejected pop star, Kat Valdez (JLo), who finds out her fiance (Maluma) has cheated on her just before they exchange vows before thousands of people in what is supposed to be the wedding of the century. She selects a random stranger, the dorky and down to earth Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), from the crowd and marries him in her fiance’s place, naturally. The whole debacle creates a media frenzy, and Kat, who has already been married various times (much like JLo herself has), decides to stay married to Charlie. And what do you know, but the two fall in love, despite being “from different worlds.” 

The plot is as silly, fun, and wholly unrealistic as any romcom plot should be. It lacks depth, as one can pretty much deduce the entire story from its three-minute trailer. It features handsome men out of all of our leagues (ie Maluma) and an unlikely pair between Kat, canonically the most popular and beautiful woman in the world, and Charlie, the most adorable and likable character in the movie. And as par for the course with this genre, the film has plenty of plot holes and inconsistencies: the children in the math club reciting pi incorrectly, Charlie drinking and swallowing the water he’s supposed to use to rinse out his mouth after brushing his teeth, the inconsistency in the number of husbands Kat did or didn’t have, the disrespectfully small venue in which the titular marriage is supposed to take place, Kat doing yoga with the television on (okay, this one isn’t actually a plot hole, but it really grinds my gears). 

JLo is no stranger to the friendly romcom. Maid in Manhattan, The Wedding Planner. It’s an interesting choice for her to return to the genre twenty years later. While the film doesn’t maintain the same level of charm or chemistry that JLo’s previous romcoms have, Marry Me does strike some similarities between her original romcom stint, including a return to atrocious early aughts fashion choices, and the fact that JLo still appears quite young. However, beyond the bare bones of the plot, Marry Me harbors some eerily and uniquely 2020s quirks, namely the exhausting omnipresence of social media. 

Marry Me seems to take place in a universe where public opinion is dictated by Jimmy Fallon and The Today Show. Since the film was streamed on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform, it makes sense from a business perspective to include other NBC-produced programming (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Today Show). What chills me to the bone, though, is the extent to which Instagram is lauded as the voice of the everyman. I wrote recently that San Francisco has seemed to have lost its uniqueness amid the establishment of a collective culture facilitated by social media – one in which significance is dictated by the amount of likes, comments, or views something garners, rather than its inherent, organic merit. This film effectively demonstrates that very culture, with countless moments in the film depicting people functioning with a hive mentality, buzzing just to get a shot of Kat Valdez or her adjacent posse on their Instagram pages. 

The movie’s cinematography incorporates an embarrassing amount of social media renditions into the storytelling, and at every conceivable turn, social media is used like a hokey “Applause” sign. In a departure from her early aughts romcoms, the real-world spectacle surrounding JLo and Maluma starring together in a major theatrical release, complete with perfectly TikTok-able music, suggests the producers of this film intended to manufacture a legitimate social media frenzy. By incorporating excited characters sharing and liking and livestreaming and commenting, the filmmakers seem to encourage the real-life audience to do the same, a seemingly clever marketing rouse to bolster the reputation of the film and the music that accompanies it. I’m sure the filmmakers fancied themselves clever for coming up with this device, but to me it registers as lazy, uncreative, and insulting to the audience.

The filmmaker’s advocacy for the use of social media is offensively blatant. In the film, Charlie’s *gasp* lack of a social media presence causes other characters in the film to act as though he secretly uses children as drug mules. Being off the grid is essentially a mortal sin in the Marry Me cinematic universe, and a truly disgusting one at that. Nearly every character in the film turns their nose up at Charlie for – God forbid – not having an Instagram. A genuine plot point compares Kat’s inability to handle her own schedule and make herself smoothies to Charlie’s lack of social media, as if both situations represent equal amounts of adult incompetence. It made me wonder whether Meta had secretly funded this film, given the amount of screen time Instagram acquired and how insistent the characters were about it as a necessity (seriously, the movie could be used as an Instagram advertisement).

I’m well aware that it may seem like I constantly complain about social media and technology in these essays. Can’t this girl write about something else? How about you quit whining? I get it. But as someone who grew up with these social media platforms, someone who now works in Silicon Valley, and someone who sees the daily impacts of these platforms (“on the ground,” as it were), I am passionate about these qualms. The inclusion of social media as a central plot device may seem innocent, but to me communicates something deeper. It irks me that the ubiquity of social media in our lives has reached the point where it is represented as ubiquitous in a blockbuster film. I don’t denounce the use of technology in full – it’s not lost on me that social media helps people organize events, share their work (like I do), and connect us to our loved ones miles away. But I can’t help but feel like it creates more issues than it solves, and that the law of unintended consequences will only continue until we pave the way to hell with good intentions. 

Often, I will look around on the bus, at the gym, or in a cafe, to see my peers all staring at their phones, seemingly unable to process a moment of boredom or without stimulation. At concerts, people now filter their experience through a ten inch screen (as represented in Marry Me). At the beach, people ignore the calming, crashing waves and opt instead for TikToks about Euphoria or skin care. On nights out with friends, people will be sure to capture their excitement on Instagram and Snapchat, only to return to their devices shortly thereafter, ignoring their friends’ company in the process. This seems to me like a legitimate problem that impacts just about everyone, myself included. From my perspective, it appears that people’s youths are slipping away from them, life experiences and relationships escaping in exchange for some intangible social capital (never mind the discord sown on many of these platforms). We do realize that with one solar flare, all of the likes and comments and Instagram posts and Twitter threads will be gone, right? 

And yet, tech giants genuinely think their platforms are doing more good for the world than bad, as evidenced by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent podcast with Lex Fridman (who, unrelatedly, is the ideal man – but I digress). Zuckerberg cites many positive examples of how the metaverse could be used, for example, but neglects to acknowledge criticisms related to creating a world reminiscent of Bladerunner or Ready Player One. He states that the goal of the metaverse is not to have people spend more time online; but then again, the goal of Facebook or Instagram was never to, say, facilitate a mass mental health crisis among teenage girls, was it? 

Much in the way Black Mirror effectively reflects our current society, so too does Marry Me. In our world, Instagram and other social media platforms do influence public opinion – just look at  the rise of influencers, political movements organized online, and social media metrics used to support journalistic propositions. While one could argue that social media represents the modern outlet or public square used to disseminate important information, the trance-like hold social media has on its users separates it from its predecessors.

Perhaps what would have made Marry Me a more enjoyable film, and perhaps even more unrealistic, was if it didn’t rely so heavily on social media as a mode of storytelling. That may have made it more of an escape from the painful realities of the present day, which is exactly what whimsical romcoms should be. And that’s what disappointed me me most about this film: the fact that the forced, relentless presence of social media ripped me out of the giddy, dreamy state romcoms are supposed to induce.

Call me a romcom purist. 

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