Review: Maid in Manhattan

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I love romantic comedies. I don’t know what it is about a charming romance with a pinch of comedy that for me equates the perfect movie going experience. This holiday season, we have seen two wide released romantic comedies. At first glance, these two movies appear to be cut from the same cloth, yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Two Weeks Notice (the review can be found in the December 2002 Archive) is a surprisingly charming romantic comedy, while Maid in Manhattan, the second romantic comedy of the season, is a disappointing Cinderella adaptation, which is high on clichés and low on charm. Yet the final nail in Maid in Manhattan’s coffin was when I returned to my car after seeing the movie, only to discover that upon starting the engine, the J-Lo song “My Love Don’t Cost a Thing” was on the radio; J-Lo’s prepackaged image was not what Maid in Manhattan needed, you know what, I will go one step further, theater patrons didn’t need Maid in Manhattan.

I think it would be a safe assumption that a vast, and I mean VAST majority of people are familiar with the Grimm fairy tale, Cinderella. Since the start of film, there has been numerous Cinderella adaptations, including the classic animated Disney version, and the 1998 Drew Barrymore image reconstruction film, Ever After. To be classified as following the Cinderella story line, the movie must hit key points, which Maid in Manhattan does. Yet to be classified as a worthy adaptation, one must look at the plot that transpires between these necessary ‘Cinderella’ plot points. When looking at Maid in Manhattan from this perspective, I realized that this movie contributes nothing new to the romantic comedy genre. Maid in Manhattan borrow LIBERALLY from such classic rom-coms as Pretty Woman and Notting Hill. The later being such a blatant rip off, I would not be surprised if Universal, the company that produced Notting Hill, sues Sony, the producers of Maid in Manhattan for copyright infringement.

J-Lo, as she will be known throughout the duration of this review, is no longer an actress, but a star. Sometimes, an actor or an actress is capable of being both a major player in Hollywood, and manage not to get typecast, and retain their thespian roots. Such is not the case with J-Lo. Her acting peaked with the Steven Soderbergh film, Out of Sight, and we saw her most talented performance some time before that in Selena. However, since she emerged into the backburner of Hollywood, and into the spotlight, we have seen such dribble as The Wedding Planner, and last spring’s Enough, and now Maid in Manhattan. J-Lo plays Marissa Ventura, a maid in a fancy New York hotel, with a son named Ty. Convinced by her wild coworker, Marissa tries on a beautiful pant-suit from a wealthy guest, and of course, while she is dressed up, she meets Chris Marshall. Chris is a senate candidate, known for his “playboy” persona, and like the story goes, he falls for The two spend the day walking around Central Park, while she pretends to be the person whose clothes she is wearing. Taking on the role of the evil step mother, is the Caroline Lane, the women whose clothes Marissa wears. Playing the fairy godmother is Lionel Bloch, a butler at the hotel.

The interesting thing about the flow of the romance in this movie is that there is none. For a romance to develop, the characters must grow on each other, until the climax which is really the only differing aspect of most romantic comedies. Conversely, Maid in Manhattan’s chief characters are constantly contradicting each other. For example, when Marissa is at the ball (a Cinderella must, in this version, a benefit dinner at the Met), she unexpectedly runs away for no reason what so ever. In another sequence, for no reason, she starts yelling at Chris about the Bronx. Director Wayne Wang must be familiar with Cinderella, as he hit all the major plot points, but the road getting there is lacking any sense of cohesion.

I really enjoy Ralph Fiennes’ body of work. I think he is one of the most capable and versatile actors currently practicing in Hollywood today. However, he is an odd choice as a romantic comedy lead. He gave it a good try, and it isn’t that he is too terrible at playing a character like this, its the fact that in his first outing, he and love interest Jennifer Lopez have ZERO chemistry. As I have said, I enjoy romantic comedies, thusly, I can say that I have seen quite a few of them; and in all my years of reviewing, this is the worst pairing I have ever seen for a mainstream, mass marketed film. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman was bad, this is abysmal. When by himself, Ralph Fiennes (pronounced ‘Ray’) has commanding presence, yet when J-Lo is on screen with him, (which is most of the time), its like he is not the world renowned actor he is, but a buffoonish imp. If J-Lo brought Ralph Fiennes that far down, then by now you must be inquiring as to when she was the only one on screen. Well, it is in fact as bad as you are reluctant to believe. I know Jennifer Lopez has acting in her somewhere, but she refuses to use it, and what she decides to try and pass by as acting is mind numbing. In supporting roles, Natasha Richardson proves to be an always reliable actress, and Bob Hoskins, is admirable as a distinguished butler. Pity the only lines he received her cliches so pitiful, I felt like ripping out the celluloid from the projector.

For romantic comedies, 2002 was quite an interesting year. We saw the “little film that could” named My Big Fat Greek Wedding go onto gross almost $250,000,000 domestically and become the number one romantic comedy of all time financially; the Reese Witherspoon vehicle Sweet Home Alabama was successful yet very unmemorable; finally, we have the winter releases. In one corner, we have Two Weeks Notice. In the other, Maid in Manhattan. I think I have made it clear as to which film you should put your money on.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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