An Important Note About Marry Me’s Math Competition in Peoria, Illinois

Photo: Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher/Universal Studios

Marry Me, the new rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson as a pop star and a math teacher, respectively, who get spontaneously married onstage at a concert after she is betrayed by her cheating fiancé, is neither romantic nor a comedy. Its leads have the chemistry of two estranged siblings. It dabbles in the concept of character development but ultimately does not commit; Wilson’s character’s entire personality, for example, is being a math teacher with an after-school math club whose primary motivation is getting his daughter to be more involved in math club and who marries Lopez — whom he constantly guilt-trips for wearing hair extensions, owning an iPhone, and having assistants — largely because she will fund his math club. Half of the movie is filmed through an Instagram Live filter, for some reason, as several characters expound on the connecting powers of social media. All of it takes place in a suspiciously Canadian version of New York City. The whole thing feels like it was made in a Vitamix — one of the film’s key characters — by a roomful of studio executives being held at gunpoint by Mark Zuckerberg.

As a lover of rom-coms who recently went to bat for J.Lo’s Maid in Manhattan, it brings me no joy to report any of this. It does bring me (complicated) joy to report, however, that there is one moment in Marry Me that very nearly works. Toward the end of the film, Lopez’s Kat Valdez is on The Tonight Show when she suddenly realizes that it is rom-com-time for her to run to the airport to chase after Wilson’s incel-adjacent Charlie. As his character’s limited personality dictates, Charlie is at a math competition. Kat races outside, where her manager asks where she is going. “Peoria!” she shouts.

Hearing this, I shrieked. Up until this moment, nothing in the movie had resembled any form of our ostensibly shared human reality, causing me to wonder whether my experience of our dimension was more subjective than I realized. But the choice to place Charlie’s math conference in Peoria was inspired, an authentic moment that slipped through the studio cracks. It reignited my hope for the film and briefly restabilized my sense of reality.

As a native suburban Chicagoan who has visited Peoria several times for dull school-sponsored events, I feel uniquely qualified to state that nothing makes more sense than having a tween math competition in Peoria. Peoria is where Illinois kids go for math competitions and other such medium-scale, low-stakes gatherings that exclusively host audiences of extremely bored parents and administrators. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it will always be. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago, which is the perfect distance for a weirdly long bus ride that makes suburban kids feel like they are going somewhere new. It has a lot of malls and a lot of high schools, many of them with cavernous suburban auditoriums large enough for hosting ill-attended weekend math events. While it makes very little sense that a New York City math club would have to go all the way to Peoria for a national competition, I generously chose to ignore that part.

Unfortunately, my hope that Marry Me might, at the last minute, become a better movie was short-lived. Kat’s actual journey to Peoria begins promisingly enough, but ultimately throws the movie off of its reality-skimming axis due to a series of chaotic travel machinations. After Kat announces her Peoria-going intentions, she adds, brainwashed by weeks of Charlie shaming her for allowing others to book her travel, “I want to do this by myself! It can’t be that hard.” She hops into a random limo. “Take me to the airport!” she exclaims. At the airline desk, an employee tells Kat that the “last connecting flight to Peoria through Chicago is all sold out.” After Kat tries to illegally bribe the other passengers into selling her their Chicago tickets, her manager races up with the last remaining ticket to Chicago. So far, this all tracks — Chicago is a hot destination.

On the plane, the pilot announces that “due to freezing weather conditions,” the plane will land later than anticipated. Again, this is also accurate — famously, Chicago and its attendant suburbs are a punishing hell in the winter. In a moment of kindness, Kat offers to buy the entire plane “Champagne and caviar.” The flight attendant informs her that all they have is “ham wraps, cheese cubes, and Michelob Ultra.” This is insulting to the Midwest, but unfortunately also feels correct. Kat then purchases a “heavy winter coat” off a fellow passenger; I appreciated this moment as well, as hideous and gigantic coats are key to every Chicagoan’s sense of identity and obviously every single person on that plane would own more than one. But when Kat lands, the film loses its way as quickly as it found it.

Kat runs outside to find transportation from the General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport to the high school where Owen Wilson is continuing to act like the boring narc she inexplicably fell in love with. Behind her, a sign reads, “Champaign.” As a good Illinoisan and also a close observer of the English language, I know that Champaign is not Peoria. They are two different towns. Both have airports. If Marry Me is committed to sending Kat to Peoria and not Champaign, why not film that scene at Peoria’s airport, or at least obscure the sign that reads “Champaign”? Alternatively, if the film did in fact mean to send her to Champaign on the way to Peoria, that’s even more fucking insane, as Champaign is an hour-and-20-minute drive from Peoria. Peoria, as I have previously mentioned, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago. Why would Kat fly into Chicago, then fly into Champaign, only to drive to Peoria, when she could fly directly into Peoria, or fly into Chicago, then drive to Peoria, in a significantly shorter time frame? Someone might argue that there were no available flights from Chicago to Peoria, but in fact, there are more flights per day from New York to Peoria than to Champaign. In other words, it takes Kat at least eight hours to make a trip that should only have taken five hours max.

Kat then calls an Uber, which is 47 minutes away; instead of waiting, she and Sarah Silverman (who is in this movie) convince a local bus driver to drive them to the high school in Peoria, which, I remind you, is 90 minutes away and only if there’s no traffic. When Kat finally arrives at the competition, where she is secondarily meant to help Charlie’s nervous daughter defeat her stage fright, she is OBVIOUSLY too late, and Charlie’s daughter loses the competition.

The greatest irony of all of this is that Kat is, again, traveling to a competition lorded over by the world’s most maniacally devoted math teacher. The above travel disaster could easily have been solved and thusly avoided by any mathematician worth his weight in suburban math-conference trophies. If Kat had only called Charlie to ask him the shortest way to get to Peoria from New York City, then he could have told her it probably made the most sense to stay in New York City, as he would be back on a connecting flight more quickly than she could get from 30 Rock to JFK to the University of Illinois Willard Airport to a local bus to the Peoria high school where he was holding his mind-numbing math competition. Without the promise of a scalding-hot math reunion in Peoria, the two would likely lose touch once they were both back in New York, which would ultimately be best for them both.

An Important Note on Math, Marry Me, and Peoria, Illinois