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Maid In Manhattan (PG-13)
Columbia Pictures
Official Site
Director: Wayne Wang
Producers: Charles Newirth, Benny Medina
Written by: Kevin Wade
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci, Bob Hoskins, Amy Sedaris

Rating: out of 5

Who knew that the Red Dragon and J. Lo could fall in love and live happily ever after? Or rather, a Hispanic working-class single mom and an upper-class prospective senator? Amazingly, a well-tailored Dolce & Gabbana suit can do a lot for a lady.

Dedicated mother Marissa Ventura (Lopez) labors day in and day out at a ritzy Manhattan hotel as a maid. She wholeheartedly strives to fulfill the staff motto of being invisible while serving the rich and famous. Outside of work and in the Bronx, she supports her precocious son Tye (who is an aficionado of Richard Nixon among other curiosities), all the while juggling his school functions, her overbearing mother, and cancellations from her deadbeat ex.

Assemblyman Chris Marshall (Fiennes) runs his Senate campaign on the 22nd floor of the aforementioned hotel with the help of right-hand man Jerry Siegel (Tucci). He meets Marissa’s son Tye while going down in the elevator with his dog, and becomes intrigued by the boy’s ability to expound on politics as if it were regular 11-year-old gossip fodder. They shoot upstairs to ask mom for permission to take a walk together. Only mom has been cozened by a co-worker into donning a guest’s white Dolce & Gabbana suit. Inevitably, Chris becomes mesmerized by Marissa. (Or is it the suit?)

Only he thinks her name is Caroline. Caroline (Richardson), a.k.a. “The Goddess,” is actually a snotty, snobby, and recently single upper-class cliché who orders Marissa around like her personal lackey. After a few misunderstandings, the real Caroline sets her sights on Chris as her next conquest. His eyes, however, are still on the outspoken, mysterious Marissa, who deftly eludes all his advances and skirts around personal factoids. After a midnight escape from a ballroom on the night she was supposed to end the whole facade, she finally gives in to the romance.

And the rest, they say, is romantic-comedy formulaic history.

This movie is more evidence that Wayne Wang’s directorial efforts are steadily evolving toward mainstream American audiences, his more recent productions being the acclaimed adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club in 1993 and 1999’s Anywhere But Here, starring Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon. Wang, who has helmed more than a dozen movies in America and abroad, has had Big Hollywood struggling to get out of him since birth. Named after Western legend John Wayne, it was only a matter of time before his translation to the realm of anticipated blockbusters.

The supporting cast in Maid In Manhattan is refreshingly varied, albeit mostly annoying. Nonetheless, they sprinkle in diversity. They fill the movie with tiny spots of folly, like Amy Sedaris in her brief time on screen. But there are no belly laughs worth mentioning, and most of the jokes are predictable.

The movie, on the whole, is unsurprising, and includes cinematically overdone favorites that should be bygone, like the obligatory, glitzy makeover scene (the one in Pretty Woman is better) and the “girlfriends prancing and dancing to pop music” segment.

In short, Maid In Manhattan is a Cinderella story that lacks the charisma of the classic fairytale, and sadly, also falls short of more modern-day class-transcending predecessors like Working Girl. Fiennes, a fine actor, comes off as being a little too stuffy and conservative to truly pass for the dashing Prince Charming. Likewise, Lopez proves that she can do the leading lady role in fluffy movies such as this, but her proficiency cannot compensate for the lack of a lust-inducing chemistry.

When the couple kisses for the first time, the whole movie deflates instead of intensifying, and any yearning for their happy ending vanishes in that one, un-magical moment.

—Sandra M. Ogle


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