Jennifer Lopez as ‘Marisa Ventura’ in "Maid in Manhattan"Maid in Manhattan (2002) was on TV t’other night, and for some reason the masochistic completist in me feels compelled to watch all of Jennifer Lopez’s rom-coms (so long as it doesn’t actually cost me anything). For those who don’t know, J-Lo plays a single-mother from the Bronx who works as a maid in a big fancy hotel, and daydreams of moving up to management… but her career ambitions are put on hold when a co-worker coaxes her into trying on a guest’s exorbitantly expensive clothes, and a hunky, high profile politician is fooled by the frocks that she’s got. But what will happen when he realises that the woman he’s falling in love with is just Marisa-from-the-block, and not the neurotic clothes horse she pretended to be? Who could possibly predict how this story will end? Although it’s billed as a “comedy”, I can’t really remember any actual jokes from the screenplay, as I sit here the morning after… in fact, if it weren’t for the overqualified supporting cast, there probably wouldn’t have been any laughs at all…

Marisa’s sort-of-competition for the affections of the aforementioned politico (and original owner of the outfit she nabs), is played by the late, great Natasha Richardson. My Chick Flick book describes her character, ‘Caroline Lane’, as a “rich-bitch”, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair… I mean, she is quite demanding, and the Natasha Richardson as ‘Caroline Lane’ and Amy Sedaris as ‘Rachel Hoffberg’ in "Maid in Manhattan"errands she sends Marisa on are a tad demeaning… but she’s always very polite about it, and she seems to tip pretty generously. For some reason Caroline’s recent break-up with an unseen fiancé is played for laughs, but the scene where Marisa’s young son flubs his lines during a class presentation about President Nixon is treated like devastating drama. Priorities! Richardson does some good work here, and I can’t help feeling a little sorry for her character, considering the heartbreaking muddle of mistaken identity and dashed hope that she gets drawn in to. True, she does rat Marisa out eventually… but Caroline’s basically a victim of circumstance, rather than a scheming villain. Marisa knowingly broke the rules, and put the jobs of everyone she works with at risk, just so she could shore up her little Cinderella ego-trip… yet she’s supposed to be the sympathetic heroine of the story! Tch! Meanwhile, Caroline’s BFF is played by the ever-reliable Amy Sedaris, who steals the few scenes she’s in with her inexplicably sniffy digs at Marisa. I can’t imagine she was improvising too much, since insulting the star-of-the-movie’s ethnicity isn’t a particularly smart career move… but there’s still a freewheeling comic energy to her schtick that makes it shine out like a beacon amongst all the other banality.

Marissa Matrone as ‘Stephanie Kehoe’ in "Maid in Manhattan"Back on the staff side of things, Marissa Matrone plays ‘Stephanie’, the mischievous maid who sets the whole story in motion, by bullying Marisa into wearing the discarded Dolce, and secretly submitting her friend’s name for the management training programme. Considering the assured performance she gave here, in a pretty pivotal role, I assumed that Matrone would have a much longer list of credits… but aside from a few minor appearances in shows like Law & Order, ER and The Sopranos, she hasn’t really done much of anything. I thought she was very funny and warm when she was on Marisa’s side, but also rock solid when she was laying down some “tough love” on her… this woman is truly deserving of bigger and better roles. I wish I had some equally nice things to say about J-Lo’s performance… she’s very pretty, of course, and brings a lot of natural charm to the screen… but her character here is so blah, I can’t really come up with much more than that. There’s a scene in Blue Crush, where Kate Bosworth and Sanoe Lake dress up in a hotel guest’s clothes as well, while Michelle Rodriguez looks on disapprovingly… and, come to think of it, I’d much rather be watching a fish-out-of-water comedy about M-Rod trying to pass herself off as a fancy high-society lady, than this mediocre mush! Make it so.

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action.
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