Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March, 11 2003)
Will Jennifer Lopez ever make a movie that earns enough money to justify her “A”-list stature? To date, she’s not appeared in a single bona fide hit flick, but she’s become a massive celebrity. Actually, her fame as a singer has started to outshine her acting career, and her notoriety as one of the world’s fussiest divas has become a big factor in her image as well.
As of early 2003, 2002’s Maid In Manhattan represents Lopez’s highest-grossing film. With a take of only $93 million, though, that’s not saying much. Maid finds Lopez back I the romantic comedy territory she first explored with 2001’s The Wedding Planner. Lopez plays single mother Marisa Ventura. She works as a maid at the ritzy Beresford Hotel as she raises her gifted but somewhat introverted 10-year-old son Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey). Ty’s dad maintains a relationship with the boy, but the father often lets down the son.
Early in the film, Marisa learns of an opening at the hotel as an assistant manager, and though maids virtually never make the leap into higher levels, her co-worker and friend Steph (Marissa Matrone) urges her to go for it. Eventually, we see that the hotel management will give Marisa a shot, but she’ll have to prove her worth during a test period.
In the meantime, assemblyman Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) comes to stay at the Beresford and use it as the headquarters for a senate run. Along with his advisor Jerry Siegel (Stanley Tucci), the group hunkers down in a pricey suite. Chris and Marisa first meet when he goes to use the bathroom and she’s still in there cleaning, but she makes no impression on him at that time.
That changes later, however. As Marisa and Steph make up the suite for fashion bigwig Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), they examine a cache of outfits Caroline needs them to press before she returns them. At Steph’s urging, Marisa tries on a snazzy suit. In the meantime, Ty meets Chris and his dog Rufus in an elevator. The precocious boy impresses Chris, and he invites the kid to go with him and the dog for a walk. When Ty and Chris go to ask Marisa’s permission, they encounter her dressed in Caroline’s clothes. Chris immediately becomes smitten, and he persuades Marisa to come with them for the walk.
She does so, and the pair hit it off nicely. When he asks about her, she states that her name’s Caroline and she’s staying in the Beresford’s Park Suite. Eventually, this leads to confusion as Chris mistakenly invites the real Caroline to lunch. From there, the movie follows Chris’ attempts to snag Marisa, her efforts to gain her promotion, and the conniving Caroline’s stabs at snaring the exceedingly eligible Chris for herself.
When you boil it down, Maid offers little more than another rehash of Cinderella. No, it doesn’t retell the story in a perfectly literal sense, but the connections remain. Not that I mind variations on classic themes, but Maid tries a little too hard to turn itself into a fairy tale.
Objectively, not much about Maid works. The story lacks any inspiration, as it does little to embellish the underlying Cinderella plot. It takes the film far too long to really get anywhere, and the ball comes too early; the final act really peters out as the flick moves toward its inevitable conclusion. The flick relies on stock elements like the predictable musical montage make-over scene, and it tosses out some really lame sexually-oriented gags. For example, Marisa uses a magazine with Chris’ face on the cover to protect her derriere from a park bench. When she notices the image, she stops and says, “I almost sat on your face”. Ugh! Maid also wastes some fine talent, especially in the way it underutilizes Bob Hoskins. He barely registers in his largely unnecessary role as one of the hotel’s butlers. Alan Silvestri’s score comes across as frightfully wimpy, and it makes the already-bland movie appear even less robust.
Possibly the film’s biggest flaw comes from Fiennes’ work as Chris. The movie needs someone light and charming, but Fiennes does best in darker roles. Here he simply seems stiff and uncharismatic. I wouldn’t vote for this guy. He and Lopez display almost no chemistry either. Whatever other flaws The Wedding Planner offered, at least Lopez and Matthew McConaughey showed some sparks. That definitely never occurs between Lopez and Fiennes, as their pairing remains chilly from start to finish.
Despite its many flaws, I must admit that I didn’t mind the time I spent with Maid, largely due to Lopez herself. She displays a nicely naturalistic charm that allows her to endear herself to the audience. Given Lopez’s status as an uber-diva – the sort that the movie mocks – it seems miraculous that she could convincingly play a maid, but she does very well in the role.
Really, Maid In Manhattan works on a modest level solely due to Lopez. It never goes much of anywhere, and it tends to move slowly. But Lopez helps make it a moderately pleasant experience. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t dislike it, and given my general feelings toward this kind of “chick flick”, that says something positive in and of itself.