Maid in Manhattan
As she bluntly states in her new hit single, "Jenny from the Block," we shouldn't mistake Jennifer Lopez for anything other than a humble hometown girl, more specifically, we shouldn't be "fooled by the rocks that [she] got/[She's] still, [she's] still Jenny from the Block." And, if Ms. Lopez's catchy, obtuse pop riff isn't enough to knock the idea that Mrs. Affleck-to-be is still the same hardworking, hard dreaming, every woman from the projects in the Bronx, her not-so-catchy, obtuse romantic comedy, Maid in Manhattan, should do the trick. A muddled Cinderella yarn with a flat script, Lopez's cinematic take on her meteoric rise isn't half as brazenly beguiling as her Top 40 Hit.
Set in the ritzy, and fictional, Beresford Hotel (we can only assume that the folks at the Waldorf, where much of the film was shot, had the forethought to exclude their establishment's name from the film), J. Lo stars as a sweet single mom who spends her days slaving away as a member of the establishment's maid staff. An errant ex-husband, adorable son, disapproving mother, and brash best friend/coworker swirl around J. Lo as she traipses around after the obnoxious, wealthy guests. Of course, like Julia Roberts' streetwalker in Pretty Woman, Lopez's maid has bigger goals for herself than making beds and leaving chocolates on the pillow. Well, sort of-she hopes to become a manager.
Of course when she's mistaken for a guest by the handsome politician, played by Ralph Fiennes, Lopez's domestic servant can't help but play the part. And, when you're driving aspiration is catapulting you to middle management, who can blame her? So a stroll in the park later, Lopez is being outfitted by her hotel buddies for a magical night at the Met with Prince Charming.
Writhing under dialogue like "You're from two different worlds," and "Tonight the maid is a lie and this, this is who you are," this schlock-filled fairy tale hits new depths of unoriginality and predictability. An added disappointment is the surprising lack of chemistry between the two leads. Posing an exciting, and unusual, choice for a leading man in a fluff piece like this, there's something comforting in the fact that Fiennes seems so out of place in this mess; at least we can hope this is his last foray into idiotic American romantic comedies. And Lopez who, despite being overexposed, can be fun to watch on screen, can't rise above the poor material. Together the two seem lost and awkward, both unable to find a rhythm amid the tired lines and unromantic scenarios.
Almost equally regretful is the fact that the wonderfully cast supporting players, who include actors like Bob Hoskins, Natasha Richardson, Frances Conroy (who plays the mother on Six Feet Under), Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy) and Chris Eigman (a caustic fixture in Whit Stillman films like Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco) are given negligibly little to do. Shamefully under-utilizing the talents of his rich cast, director Wayne Wang reduces the bunch to playing one-dimensional, forgettable footnotes. Richardson and Sedaris are particularly grating as a pair of aging, bitchy singles, as obnoxious as they are desperate.
With more than enough sob stories from divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey filling the airwaves, the last thing the world needs is another rendition of Jennifer Lopez's hard knocks life growing up in the Bronx. And, while it's unclear how much Jenny has really done for her block, it does feel somewhat contrived to hear Lopez's character cut into Fiennes' Republican senatorial candidate for playing to his public instead of the people. Although Lopez's intent on crowning herself the patron saint of her hometown borough is writ large in Maid in Manhattan, we can take solace in the fact that J. Lo's bottom-of-the-barrel, self-important, veiled autobiography vehicle is still a step up from Glitter.
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