Kevin O’Reilly has reviewed the theatrical release of Maid In Manhattan, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez as a hotel maid who, through a misunderstanding, ends up dating rich politician Ralph Fiennes.
A bog-standard romantic comedy, Maid In Manhattan holds your attention for an hour and forty-five minutes without ever really catching fire. It’s tempting to compare it to last month’s Two Weeks Notice, which is also set in uptown New York and stars an English actor as a rich playboy and an American actress as a tough working-class girl. It’s a comparison that leaves Maid In Manhattan wanting. Not only is Two Weeks Notice funnier, it’s much more involving as a love story. Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock play two interesting characters we couldn’t imagine falling for each other and it’s fun to watch them bicker their way into each other’s arms. Maid In Manhattan gives us a perfect couple who fall in love at first sight and are kept apart until the end only by the contrivances of the screenplay.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Marisa Ventura, a single mother whose days are spent working as a maid in an upmarket Manhattan hotel and taking care of her young son Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey), who is obsessed with Richard Nixon and listens to Simon and Garfunkel on his walkman, like any ten-year-old. Marisa is good at her job and is being considered for management but one day, while doing a glamourous guest a favour, she’s goaded by a colleague into trying on the woman’s $5000 outfit. Just then, in walks Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), a prospective senator and gossip column favourite who’s just broken up with a supermodel. Chris is instantly smitten by this beauty he assumes is a fellow guest and pretty soon they’re dating and Marisa has to decide whether to keep up the facade or confess the truth.
In other words, it’s Cinderella with a Dolce & Gabana coat instead of a glass slipper. Unfortunately the handsome prince is such a decent, socially aware paragon of virtue that there’s no question he’ll still love Marisa when he finds out who she really is, which dilutes the suspense somewhat. Given the film’s frequent mentions of Tricky Dick, wouldn’t it have been more fun to make Chris more Nixon-like and force him to overcome his nature to win Marisa? As it is, Ralph Fiennes gives him a nice, easy charm and proves that he’s as adept at playing romantic leads as serial killers and SS officers.
It’s interesting that Chris is a Republican. Hollywood has traditionally cast its idealised politicians as Democrats, like Michael Douglas in The American President, or when possible not mentioned a party but here, for once, we have a good-hearted Republican. This may just be a concession to Bush’s popularity as Chris’s politics and fondness for social causes make him indistinguishable from a movie Democrat.
Marisa is also a missed opportunity. We’re told she has a low self-opinion but it never comes across in Lopez’s acting. If it had, we might understand why she doesn’t believe Chris would want her for herself when it’s blatantly obvious he would. Instead she’s just J-Lo playing J-Lo again – pretty but blank. Steven Soderbergh may have wrung a great performance from her for Out Of Sight but, whatever his secret was, he hasn’t shared it with any of her subsequent directors. In this case, the director is Wayne Wang, who does a decent enough job but can’t crack the script’s problems. The writer was Kevin Wade, who once wrote Working Girl, a much better film based on a similar scenario.
With no suspense and little chemistry beween the leads, it falls on the supporting cast to keep the audience’s interest. Bob Hoskins sports a posh accent and an expression of noble suffering as a butler and dispenser of wise advice, Stanley Tucci is wasted as a slimy campaign manager while Natasha Richardson walks off with all her scenes, playing an amusingly spoiled Sloanie who’d like to get her hooks into Chris. As Marisa’s son, Tyler Garcia Posey made me cringe but the screenwriter is more to blame than him. Simon and Garfunkel for God’s sake! And I’m getting tired of bright-eyed movie kids who act as Cupid for their single parents. The little brat in About A Boy who shrieked, “She’s not keen on him, she’s only keen on me!” was much more believable.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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