Jennifer Lopez Shifts the Narrative on Love and Ageism in “Marry Me”

Universal Pictures / Barry Wetcher/Universal Pictures

Jennifer Lopez is 52, and she’s not shy about it. She’s even working on a documentary with Netflix about the year she turned 50. That was the year her Oscar contender “Hustlers” came out, she received CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award, and she went on tour for “It’s My Party.” And she’s been pretty busy ever since, headlining the Super Bowl halftime show with Shakira, performing at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and making multiple movies. Those are all things women her age in the industry are told they can’t do. But Lopez has always made defying the rules work for her, and she’s not stopping now.

In her latest film, “Marry Me,” she’s doing it again. This time around, the focus is on age and the ways ageism tries to limit women and their sexuality. In the film, she plays an alter ego, Kat Valdez, a “north of 35” pop superstar who manages to look glamorous and comfortable in her own skin no matter what she’s wearing. And she does go from over-the-top Lady Gaga-esque getups to yoga pants and a sports bra. When the film opens, Kat is engaged to Maluma’s Bastian, and her continued pull toward him serves as the primary obstacle to her finding happiness with Owen Wilson’s Charlie.

Maluma is 28, making him more than 20 years younger than Lopez. But no one has said anything about it. In the film, they never remark on it. And in the reviews, I’ve seen some laments that “Marry Me” could have been a more thoughtful exploration of love at middle age, but nothing noting or even calling into question the age difference between the two fiancés. And that’s a big deal in our society that still punishes women for aging, particularly if they do so in the public eye. When “Sex and the City” rebooted this year with “And Just Like That,” so much of the conversation was around how the stars had aged, as if they shouldn’t dare to be on television after 40. And the new additions to the cast felt the need to remind us that women in their 50s still have sex, date, and find love. It shouldn’t be such a rare thing to see on screen – but it is.

Lopez remembers being told her career was over at 40, but she refused to go away and instead became even more relevant. Now she’s singing duets on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” reunited with Ben Affleck, and still taking the world by storm. Now, I’m not going to pretend that Lopez is a normal 52-year-old. She’s not a normal anything. Despite award show recognition eluding her (like Kat in “Marry Me”), she is an incredibly talented triple threat.

And she’s also incredibly beautiful. We’re talking about the woman whose red carpet look inspired the invention of Google Images. People are still creating think pieces about her butt. The internet appears to believe she doesn’t age at all. Maybe if she looked more like what’s expected for her age, there would be some commentary around her dating someone so much younger, even if it is just fictional. That said, when the gender is reversed, no one says much. In the iconic rom-com “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts and Richard Gere are 18 years apart, and their ages are just one of several power differentials (including his wealth and status). And the ’90s saw the two paired up more than once, showing how everyone took their age difference as normal. Hell, when Leonardo DiCaprio played a man married to an age-appropriate woman, with grown sons no less, everyone couldn’t stop yapping about it. It was the funniest thing about “Don’t Look Up.”

And when “Grey’s Anatomy” premiered, there were multiple plot lines where young residents dated, married, or hooked up with their older attendees. In the first few seasons, the younger ones were almost always women, with Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery just not being able to be as cavalier about dating someone with less power when the opportunity arose. Now, of course, 18 years later, we’ve seen several plot lines where the genders are reversed, and no one much remarks on it.

Which is to say, we’ve come a long way, even if we’re clearly not all the way there yet. In “Marry Me,” Lopez ends up with a man closer to her age than Maluma. Wilson has just seven months on her, but their relative closeness of age isn’t what brings them together. In fact, they never even discuss it. Instead, their bond is about what they learn from each other and how they’re willing to fight for the other person. And Lopez is still fighting for love, for recognition, and for joy. It’s an inspiration.

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