MAID IN MANHATTAN
*** (out of 5)
December 13, 2002
Jennifer Lopez as MARISA VENTURA
Ralph Fiennes as CHRISTOPHER MARSHALL
Stanley Tucci as JERRY SIEGEL
Natasha Richardson as CAROLINE SINCLAIR
Bob Hoskins as LIONEL BLOCH
Tyler Posey as TY VENTURA
Directed by: Wayne Wang
BY KEVIN CARR
Director Wayne Wang the stalwart auteur of “chick flicks” who was responsible for bringing us “The Joy Luck Club,” “Anywhere But Here” and “Chinese Box” tries out another chick flick genre – the romantic comedy. His new film, “Maid in Manhattan,” is a modern retelling of the Cinderella tale, complete with our heroine heading off to the ball.
Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother struggling to live in New York City. Her only son, Ty (Tyler Posey), is struggling through school and stage fright during a class speech. One day, Marisa goes to her humdrum job as a maid in a swanky Manhattan hotel and changes her life. She is asked by one of the guests to return a $5,000 cashmere outfit and is coaxed by another maid to try it on for size. While she’s in the outfit that costs more than three months rent, New York Senate candidate and renowned playboy Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) walks in on her and assumes she’s a guest. The two go for a romantic walk in Central Park, and Christopher quickly falls for her.
The film then rolls into the whirlwind of nerve-wracking encounters between Marisa and Christopher as she tries to keep him from finding out she is just a maid. The Cinderella story goes into full swing as all the hotel workers happily get her ready for the ball like the mice in Disney’s classic cartoon.
Reportedly, Sandra Bullock was one of the actresses originally considered for the role (back when writer John Hughes was set to direct). However, she dropped out and J-Lo took her place.
Personally, I would have preferred Sandra Bullock.
Like many star vehicles, “Maid in Manhattan” doesn’t really display much from Lopez, and members of the supporting cast are actually more entertaining to watch. In particular, Stanley Tucci is marvelous as Christopher’s rabid campaign manager. And Bob Hoskins does a commendable performance as the lead butler (although he still has the London underground boxing feel from “Twenty Four Seven”).
Plus, while every movie requires some suspension of disbelief, it is really, really, REALLY hard to buy ultra-diva Jennifer Lopez as a lowly maid. Sure, she grew up in Brooklyn, but the irony is almost too much to have her in a role that preaches about the virtues of the service class while she’s notorious in the tabloids for having wild demands, such as no one being allowed to look at her or make direct eye contact.
There are few actresses in Hollywood who would be more miscast in the role. Perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow would be harder to swallow, but that’s about it. I’m sure that when Lopez visits these swanky New York hotels, she’s just as much a pain in the kiester as the socialites in the film. Why not cast Barbra Streisand as a staunch Republican as well?
Another big stumbling block in the film is the completely inappropriate anti-Nixon sentiment. Director Wang preaches to the audience through young Ty about how horrible Nixon was. For example, in one exchange (which I’m quoting from memory, so don’t sue me if I’m slightly off), Ty says to Christopher, “Are you Republican?” Christopher responds, “Yes, I am.” Then Ty says, “Richard Nixon was a Republican.” Christopher then says, “Yes, he was.” Ty’s response is, “Richard Nixon lied.”
Oh, that’s original.
C’mon people. Nixon jabs went out in the mid-80s. Why else have every single anti-Nixon movie (from the painfully slow Oliver Stone epic “Nixon” to the embarrassingly aloof “Dick”) was a worse disaster than the Vietnam War? Let’s not forget that Hollywood love child Bill Clinton’s antics dwarfed anything Nixon did. Sure, Nixon lied. But Bill Clinton made turned it into an art form, lying under oath and to a grand jury – all leading to impeachment. At least Richard Nixon had the dignity to resign.
Bottom line, political posturing has no place in a light romantic comedy like this. Get over it, Hollywood.
As romantic comedies go, “Maid in Manhattan” is about average. It’s a cute film, but it will never live on like “Pretty Woman” or “When Harry Met Sally.” It follows the basic formula almost too well. The “father doesn’t care” plotline and the “struggling working mother” characterization is driven into the ground in the first fifteen minutes.
Ultimately, for the chicks who like chick flicks, this will be a great film. And for the guys they have to drag along, it will be fine as well. Although Lopez just goes through the motions, she’s pretty easy on the eyes. And any red-blooded American male will be envious of young Tyler Posey who ends up snuggling up against her famous backside in one scene. (Yes, I know. I’m a pig.)
So guys, take your girlfriends or wives to this one and enjoy the scenery. Then you have leverage for them to go with you to see “Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers” next week.