Romantic comedies are so endlessly appealing both to those looking back on their own experience of falling in love and those looking forward to it that Hollywood keeps cranking them out. The elements seem so simple – the plucky but vulnerable heroine, the wisecracking best friend, the handsome hero all but dumbstruck by the heroine’s charm and beauty, the second act complication, and the happily-ever-after ending. Yet, like love itself, perhaps, it is a goal more often sought than obtained, and the key ingredient to make it work is impossible to define.
“Maid in Manhattan” is as careful a combination of ingredients as it is possible to package. Every aspect is a proven commodity designed to go to the heart of the core fantasies of a 13-year-old girl, and the end result is undeniably pleasing, if not particularly memorable.
It’s Cinderella in a hotel. Jennifer Lopez plays Marisa, a maid at a big luxury hotel in Manhattan. She has a darling son, an unreliable ex-husband, and a mother who tells her not to dream of more than she has. Cashmere-voiced Ralph Fiennes plays Chris, a Senate candidate who has no heart for the hypocrisy of the campaign. Marisa’s fairy godmother is her best friend who urges her to try on a fabulously expensive designer pantsuit about to be returned by a hotel guest. Chris sees her in the suit, thinks she is staying at the hotel instead of cleaning it up, and invites her out. Then there are forty minutes of various excruciating complications before Marisa has to tell the truth and Chris has to decide whether she really is the person he thinks – or wants to think – she is.
Marisa is an appealing heroine, beloved by her son and her co-workers, loyal, practical but optimistic. She dreams of being more but isn’t anything as icky as ambitious or confident or focused. Chris, too, dreams of more but isn’t craven, like his political advisor. Everything is at the fairy tale level, which means we never dwell on troubling realities like what, exactly, Chris hopes to achieve as a senator or how, exactly, Marisa gets a job after being fired for stealing. The best and worst you can say about the movie is that there are no surprises – no bad ones, but no good ones, either.
Parents should know that there is some crude humor (mostly from the wisecracking best friend) and brief strong language. Chris and Marisa have sex (off camera and no nudity). She apparently intends for it to be a one-night stand, an issue parents will want to discuss. The movie does make it clear that stealing and lying are always wrong and have severe consequences.
Families who see this movie should talk about how – and why — Marisa’s mother was an obstacle to pursuing her dreams. How is the end different from most movies of this kind? Why? How is this story like Cinderella and how is it different?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Notting Hill” and “The Runaway Bride.” They might also enjoy some of the Depression-era comedies with similar themes, like “Easy Living” and “The Lady Eve.”