Review by Kim Hollis
December 2, 2002
Much like Jay and Silent Bob, I yearn for John Hughes’ halcyon Shermer High School days. In the ‘80s, the productive screenwriter churned out movies on an almost annual basis, and a stunning number of them are held up as old favorites today. Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Home Alone, Some Kind of Wonderful, and the teen films Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are frequently remembered as fond favorites from the prolific Hughes’ repertoire.
Today, as the creator of this story (though not the actual screenwriter), he’s the culprit behind Maid in Manhattan.
That’s not to say that his earlier efforts were perfect. Indeed, if released today, they’d likely be waved off as banal and formulaic; still, there was a magic to them that endeared them to a generation and continues to make them eminently watchable even now.
Maid in Manhattan is no such classic.
Oh, all of the requisite Hughes elements are present (except perhaps Anthony Michael Hall). It’s just that somehow, this 21st century Cinderella update rings exceptionally hollow in comparison.
Maybe it’s the fact that we’re supposed to buy Jennifer Lopez as a sweet, underprivileged maid with a heart of gold while at the same time believing that all wealthy folks are shallow, bigoted, ill-tempered pinheads. Considering the fact that Lopez is reputed to be a brat and has very specific demands during concert tours (and throws tantrums when they aren’t met), there’s a definite feeling of incongruity throughout the film.
Still, seeing the diva play the genuinely good-hearted girl from the projects isn’t even the most troublesome aspect of the film, though it’s hard to put a finger on what exactly is the most offensive facet. It could be the insanely manipulative usage of an adorable tyke who is extremely vulnerable and sensitive yet somehow wise beyond his years. Maybe it’s the mother who thinks her daughter can never rise above circumstances to become anything more than a maid, and also believes she has no business consorting or having any sort of relationship with someone who is “better” than she is. Or maybe it’s the “sidekick” factor. Lopez has three, though two are relegated to nothing more than caricatures (which is saying a lot in this film).
Ralph Fiennes’ sidekick comes in the form of Stanley Tucci, who is almost always a welcome addition to any cast. He makes the best of this particular character, an ambitious-at-all-costs political assistant. Despite Tucci’s efforts, it’s still next to impossible not to roll your eyes at the majority of the lines that come from his mouth.
It gets worse, though, thanks to Natasha Richardson and her sidekick, the dreadful Amy Sedaris. The two of them portray upper-crust socialites who are staying at the hotel where Lopez works, and their dialogue repetitively hits us over the head by employing a stunning amount of bigotry and plain inanity. We get it. They’re bad, Jennifer Lopez is good, and Ralph Fiennes has dreamy eyes.
Speaking of Fiennes, who gamely tries to make the movie something worth watching, his serial killer character in Red Dragon had substantially better chemistry with Emily Watson than the upwardly mobile politician from Maid in Manhattan has with J-Lo. There’s a deadness behind his eyes when he gazes at Lopez, and a nonchalance in her voice inflections that make the coupling less than believable.
I actually almost forgot to mention Bob Hoskins. That’s because he’s barely noticeable, though to his credit, I suppose the character is supposed to be nondescript and inconspicuous.
In the end, it’s all really just window dressing for Lopez, anyway. She parades about in gorgeous outfits, makes terrific googly eyes, and works really hard to be the best gosh-darned employee that she can be. It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times before, and feels so contrived that the cynic in me wondered aloud if Hughes had seen The Princess Diaries and then rushed to greenlight this script. It’s an unfair question as the Kevin Wade screenplay was written well in advance of the Anne Hathaway film, but still is a reasonable representation of my overall reaction to the film. Maid in Manhattan simply lacks magic, and as such, winds up being a cringe-worthy way to spend an hour and a half.