Pros: Cute boy, Ralph Fiennes, starts to discuss interesting themes
Cons: predictable, bland, shallow
The Bottom Line: This movie made being a maid look like fun, so it must feature extremely poignant social commentary, right?
When my friends and I saw the trailer for Maid in Manhattan, we groaned at the cheesiness of the title and the utter unoriginality of the plot. "Wasn't this movie already made with Julia Roberts in it?" I whispered.
A couple of weeks went by and we continued to snicker at the TV commercials for the latest J. Lo blockbuster. But I harbored a terrible secret: I actually wanted to see the film. You see, in this complex and often depressing world in which we live, it's comforting to go into a darkened theater for two hours knowing that, for the next 120 minutes, the good guys are going to win, and the poor, beautiful maid will win her rich, handsome senator. Thankfully, one of my housemates was up for seeing a predictable fairy tale, as well, so we bought our tickets (for the cheap matinee, I hasten to add!)
This film was everything I was expecting it to be, and, since I had low expectations, I left the theater smiling. Sometimes inconsistencies and unrealistic details in films really bother me, (see my review of A Knight's Tale for a real rant on this subject), but, for some reason, with Maid in Manhattan, I was able to overlook most of the film's many faults and just enjoy it as a fun, every-girl's-fantasy, chick flick.
The basic plot is that Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother who works as a maid in a swanky New York hotel. When she and her spunky co-worker Stephanie (Marissa Matrone) are cleaning the suite of a posh British woman named Caroline Sinclaire (Natasha Richardson), Stephanie convinces Marisa to try on one of Caroline's designer suits. While she is wearing the suit, Senate hopeful Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) walks in with Marisa's son Ty (Tyler Posey) in tow. Chris is smitten with Marisa at first glance and the three of them go out for a walk in Central Park with Chris' dog. Marisa walks gracefully in her heals, even though they are two sizes too large. Marisa spends a good deal of the rest of the film trying to prevent Chris from discovering her true identity.
This film starts to go in a direction that other romantic comedies often don't-- with references to class differences and racism. However, it quickly returns to the tried and true formula, and, like Chris Marshall's politics, ends up being conservative. Although, as my film-watching companion pointed out, it was nice to see that J. Lo's hair is messy when she wakes up in the morning.
Since Chris met Marisa when she is in Caroline's suite and clothing, he invites Caroline to lunch and is unpleasantly surprised when the real Caroline shows up. The socialite acts in an annoying enough manner that we are glad when she is spurned and made to look foolish. Marisa somehow avoids being seen as she helps Lionel the butler serve lunch. Lionel (Bob Hoskins) is a rather bizarre character as he supports Marisa in her identity theft, risking his job as she blatantly breaks hotel rules.
Marisa's son Ty is an integral part of the film since he is the reason that Marisa meets Chris in the first place. Something of a child prodigy, Ty is obsessed with the 1970s, especially President Nixon. He gets to utter the only interesting and funny lines in the entire movie, but is ultimately an unrealistic character. I don't think there is a single ten-year-old in the world who would look on smiling as his mother snogs a bigwig politician. However, it's easy to see why Ty would want to be friends with Chris, since the fun-loving man has a nice dog and shares Ty's fear of public speaking.
Another interesting character is Marisa's mother who, like the mother in Real Women Have Curves, tries to keep her daughter from rising in the world. She objects to Marisa's applying to be a hotel manager, as well as her relationship with Chris. Marisa's mother is probably trying to prevent her from being disappointed, but she ends up sounding unsupportive. A similar theme of women cutting each other down can be found in Marisa's interactions with Caroline and an unhelpful clerk at a department store. The maids share a bond, however, as they dance and gossip, and look out for each other. Director Wayne Wang almost made being a maid look like fun. However, the overall message seems to be that landing a rich man is more important that advancing one's career.
When Chris describes the mysterious object of his affection, he calls her "Mediterranean" and talks about "the projects" even though he's never actually been there. This shows how out of touch rich politicians often are with their constituencies. The film could have focused more on this issue instead of making Chris Marshall out to be this young, exciting politician. In fact, he was just more of the same -- a Republican whose father had also served as a Senator. The only unrealistic part of the film that really bothered me is when Ty congratulates Chris on his "environmental voting record." Now, how many Republicans are there who defend the environment? And how could Marisa fall in love with him when she knows that he's not standing up for the common people?
A strange theme is that Marisa is somehow special and not meant to be a maid. When she dresses in a designer gown and expensive jewelry for a function at the Met, she is nervous about being able to carry off her act. Fellow maid Stephanie reassures her, "No, this is who you really are!" It seems to me that everyone puts on some sort of act for a black tie affair, and it's ridiculous to imply that Marisa somehow possesses the gene that predisposes one to look good in Dolce & Gabbana or something.
Stanley Tucci plays Chris' neurotic campaign manager who serves to show how fun Chris is in comparison and to add some more star power to the cast. Amy Sedaris plays one of those women with no redeeming qualities whatsoever who abound in romantic comedies to make the female lead seem even more desirable. As Caroline's self-centered friend, she is snobby and annoying. The scenes with her and Caroline are useless and boring and use up valuable screen time that could have been used for scenes with Marisa's mother or the other maids.
Ralph Fiennes seems an odd choice to play a Big Apple politician since he is British (and doesn't have the greatest American accent). Also, as is the case in most romantic comedies, there is little chemistry between the two leads, and the audience is just expected to accept the fact that they are in love.
Also, if I ran Hollywood, I would put a moratorium on films that focus on running away from paparazzi. It's already been done one too many times.
The soundtrack has typical romantic comedy fare, including that ubiquitous Norah Jones song and "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross. Thankfully, it did not feature J. Lo's horrendous "Jenny From the Block."
To understand why MAID IN MANHATTAN was so wildly popular at the box office when first released in 2002, one must first examine the times in which it first appeared. Less than a year on from September 11th, audiences needed fairytale escapism, and this movie delivered it with an adorable Jennifer Lopez (then riding high on her dual career of actress and chart-topping pop singer) and a whimsical Norah Jones soundtrack. Seven years later, does MAID IN MANHATTAN still hold it's entertaining spell? … more
I was writing another book review when this movie came on TV. When I saw Jennifer Lopez, I started watching and was hooked from the first scene with her little son. I just finished it and must say I truly enjoyed the time spent watching this "feel-good" movie. It was just what the doctor ordered after a two-day stint with the flu. This certainly went well with my recuperative fare of tea and toast. ... lol ... In this movie, Lopez plays--you guessed it!--a maid who works in … more
I don't like pointless chick flix. I am the King of this notion. I would rather sit alone for six hours staring at a pine tree than give an hour and a half-plus to a nightmarish meet-cute. Thankfully, in this very manly reviewers opinion, Maid in Manhattan shines a little. Jennifer Lopez is accredited to acting in one of the grandest modern bombs of our time. The mention of the word sends chills up the spine, but here it goes: Gigli. (Which according to Ebert didn't deserve … more
Where Julia Roberts has great success in her box office Cinderella story, 'Pretty Woman', Jennifer Lopez is less than successful. I'm not saying that this is a bad movie---its cute, but its similarity to 'Pretty Woman' is almost text book and too convenient. J-lo is Marisa, a maid in a distinguished Manhattan hotel---she aspires to a management position and is motivated by her colleagues, and her son, Ty a young boy with a penchant for politics. She's got two thorns in her side: a mother … more
In the breezy Maid in Manhattan, a maid in a top-flight hotel (Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight, The Wedding Planner) chances to dress in a guest's clothes just when a handsome political candidate (Ralph Fiennes, Schindler's List, Red Dragon) walks in. Naturally, he's bowled over and pursues her; he's initially drawn to her gorgeous good looks but soon comes to appreciate her honesty and common sense. Of course, she can't let him know that she's only a maid, and various high jinks ensue--it's all pretty formulaic, but lurking in the edges of this glossy, brainless romance are a wealth of sly turns by Natasha Richardson and Amy Sedaris (as callow socialites), Bob Hoskins (as a dignified butler), Stanley Tucci (as Fiennes' exasperated campaign manager), and many less familiar faces. All help to give Maid in Manhattan the life and texture that has been processed out of the main characters. -- Bret Fetzer