MAID IN MANHATTAN

R
Reviews

Single mom Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) toils as a maid in a Manhattan luxury hotel to support her son, Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey). When playboy G.O.P. assemblyman Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) mistakes her for a rich hotel guest, she warily goes along with the Cinderella masquerade, although her eye is on the "real" prize of rising from the ranks to become a manager. Can she cross over to the upper class without losing her Puerto Rican soul?

Maid in Manhattan is a blandly serviceable showcase for Lopez, which never lifts off into the romantic stratosphere. This is mainly due to director Wayne Wang's perfunctory, if intelligent, direction. He's trodding the same Cinderella territory which Billy Wilder mastered in Sabrina, The Major and the Minor, Love in the Afternoon and his genius script for Midnight. Granted, Kevin Wade's screenplay does not begin to approach Wilder's wit--the cutesy use of Ty as climactic deus ex machina at a press conference (stolen from Notting Hill) is particularly egregious, and a jaw-dropping reference to Lopez's most famous anatomy part is made when she tells Fiennes, "I almost sat on your face!" But Wang hasn't provided enough satisfying directorial flourishes to eradicate such obviousness from our minds.

Marisa's magical transformation scene, when she meets Marshall at a fancy party, is telling. The strains of Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" perfunctorily appear from nowhere on the soundtrack and, abetted by her joyous maid posse, she goes on a shopping spree. Instead of a dazzling fashion montage, a la Funny Face, Wang has Lopez merely holding up various gowns against her famous body for effect. He also blows her big My Fair Lady entrance early, by showing her kissing her little boy goodbye through a limo window, and the party itself is a far, drab cry from Vincente Minnelli. Wang, however, is not above utilizing that most tiresome of studio clichs: the sappy love ballad drooling all over the one (very chaste) bedroom scene. He seems most interested in the workaday realities of the hotel, which he captures in glossily sentimental, Hollywood-approved fashion. (Those maids may be downtrodden, but they nevertheless always seem to be on the verge of partying, hard.)

The film works largely through its cannily assembled cast. Fiennes is an effectively improbable romantic lead; his icy self-absorption actually works in the culture clash with Lopez's semi-street forthrightness (and he's certainly believable as a Republican). Natasha Richardson has a plummy good time in the role of a rich bitch. Amy Sedaris, whom many consider the funniest woman in Manhattan, joyously sinks her fangs into the part of her abrasively racist pal. A starchy Bob Hoskins provides the film's only really touching, underplayed moments, as a "perfect" butler (with requisite heart of gold). Frances Conroy and Priscilla Lopez make strong, if fleeting, impressions, as, respectively, Marisa's supervisor and mother. Little Posey, like his name, is a tad too pert for my taste, but blessedly painless withal. As for the star herself, she exhibits a nasal, quick-minded, underdog energy, with a pair of doe-like eyes (her softest, most appealing feature) which are undeniably endearing. She is, however, a bit too heavily made up in the aforementioned party scene: She has sufficient natural glamour without a coat of tan from a bottle.

-David Noh