If one were to cross "Cinderella" with "Pretty Woman," the result
would probably look something like "Maid in Manhattan." A winning
romance--one of the best in the genre this year--the film is aided
immeasurably from the smart direction by Wayne Wang (1999's "Anywhere
But Here") and yet another wonderful star turn from Jennifer Lopez (2001's "Angel Eyes").
Marisa Venture (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother living in the Bronx
who works as a maid at New York City's prestigious Beresford Hotel.
When a chance encounter with handsome politician Christopher Marshall
(Ralph Fiennes) while she is trying on a guest's ritzy outfit leads
him to believe she is a wealthy socialite, Marisa likes him too much
to tell him the truth about her profession and social status. Being
seen with a man in public who is running for State Senator, however,
causes an onslaught of press and paparazzi, which threatens not only
her true identity, but also her job and a burgeoning relationship
that Marisa is afraid she will lose.
The romantic comedy genre is nothing new, nor is the subject of mistaken
identity, and in most cases it is obvious where the story is going
to go and how everything is going to work out. "Maid in Manhattan"
is no exception to these predictable conventions, but what it lacks
in surefire originality it more than makes up for in entertainment
value and a tendency to dodge caricatures. All of the characters on
display are realistically written in a screenplay by Kevin Wade (1998's
"Meet Joe Black"), and the statement the film makes about the relationship
between the wealthy and the working-class rings with truth.
Surely, any movie in which a character misleads someone else into
believing they are somebody they are not would be over in ten minutes
if the characters would just say the things required to clear up the
situation. If this were to occur, though, the movie would be over
almost before it began. Director Wayne Wang has some fun setting up
uncomfortable situations in which maid Marisa has to dodge hotel guest
Christopher, but he wisely doesn't repeat it to the point of overkill.
In between these comic moments are a delightful romance between Marisa
and Christopher--who avoids cliche by not caring about Marisa's background
when he discovers her real identity--and a rather astute depiction
of what a maid's job entails and what their days are like.
Jennifer Lopez may or may not be the diva she has been written to
be, but either way her charisma cannot be denied. Lopez brings warmth
and a knowledgeable weariness to her role of Marisa, who may just
be a maid, but has higher aspirations in life and refuses to let others
get her down. Her loving relationship with her son, Ty (scene-stealer
Tyler Garcia Posey), is also nicely rounded and believable. As Christopher,
Ralph Fiennes (2002's "Red Dragon") makes for a suitably handsome
and dapper love interest, and how refreshing to see him in a second
consecutive role not set in the 19th-century. Ably filling out the
supporting players are Natasha Richardson (1998's "The Parent Trap"),
as a high society hotel patron whose clothes Marisa is trying on when
she meets Christopher; Bob Hoskins (1999's "Felicia's Journey") as
devotional butler Lionel; and newcomer Marissa Matrone as Marisa's
best friend and co-worker Stephanie.
You may know where "Maid in Manhattan" is leading at all times, but
it succeeds where many others have failed ("Sweet Home Alabama" being
a recent example) by actually being romantic and side-stepping tedium.
Jennifer Lopez's Marisa is a genuinely likable and developed heroine
who guides the viewer along with her as she makes some mistakes and
then does what she can to set things right. Spending 105 minutes with
her in "Maid in Manhattan" is an undemanding and always enjoyable time.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman