Maid in Manhattan (2002) (sort of a movie review)

18 Apr
Movie poster for Maid In Manhattan, with Jennifer López dressed as a maid in the foreground, and a larger image in the background, with her dressed as a socialité, being embraced by Ralph Fiennes, and the New York City skyline.

MAID IN MANHATTAN, a Cinderella-with-a-twist romantic comedy, was the April selection for #RomancelandiaMovieNight; originally released in 2002, I had vague, fond-ish memories of this movie, which, alas, were not really warranted.

Reader, beware: the movie is tropetastic. The hero is a Republican politician, and there’s just enough oily smarm in those bits to be off-putting. I believe there’s also a couple of instances of cursing (I curse more in the review itself), but that’s it–there isn’t even any nudity.

The setup for the movie, which the trailer below basically spoils entirely, is pretty standard Cinderella fare:

Marisa Ventura (Jennifer López), a single mother of a ten year old gifted child, works as a maid in a very exclusive, very upscale New York City hotel. The father is basically an absent asshole; it’s not clear whether he provides any financial support, but it is very clear that he doesn’t give the first fuck about Ty.

Marisa works hard, both at being as good a mom as she can, and at her job, where she hopes to eventually move up to management. And then, one weekend changes her life.

Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) is the scion of a wealthy political dynasty (think the Kennedys); currently a New York State assemblyman, he’s about to announce a run for the U.S. Senate. He’s handsome, single, and a darling of the political/celebrity press, who just broke up, very publicly, with someone very much of his class: wealthy and famous for being famous.

I mentioned at the top that the movie is tropetastic, which some may consider redundant, given that it’s basically a Cinderella retelling, but it’s also accurate. Here are a few:

  • Poor, hard-working single mother meets wealthy, but good and honest man, who falls for her on the spot.
  • Absent asshole father.
  • The heroine’s mother, who loves her (and helps out with Ty when she can), but who is also very critical of Marisa’s ambition (reaching above her station, so to speak).
  • Privileged, wealthy male politician who is actually a nice guy.
  • The stern lower-level boss who turns out to have a heart of gold.
  • The pet mice…erm, co-workers and friends who transform our Cinderella into a princess.
  • Gifted child as plot device, both engineering the meet cute and saving the day.
  • The condescending, sexist manager who also reeks of racism.
  • The political operative who clearly has no principles or scruples, whose only goal is to get his ‘charge’ elected.
  • The hotel guest who alternatively treats Marisa as her personal gofer, or considers her part of the furnishings, and who can’t be bothered to learn her name (never mind the fucking name tag on her uniform).

Some of these elements are played straight, and work very well. For example, at one point Marisa says, “Half the time I’m a stereotype, the other half I’m invisible” and, as someone with an accent who has worked in food franchises, wearing a uniform (that you pay for, thank you), and a name tag, boy, the racist behavior of guests and management resonated even harder this time around.

It’s good that Marisa does not hold back when talking to Chris about the things that matter, even as she’s lying to him about her identity. López’s delivery makes it clear that she’s not comfortable; that being direct to someone whom she likes, who also has so much privilege, is difficult, but she still tells him a couple of uncomfortable truths. (More on this below.)

I really appreciated that the “the really wealthy single man is actually a good guy” bit was balanced by his awkwardness with Marisa’s son. Chris tries, but even with Ty’s pre-existing hero worship (he’s a politics junkie), it’s clear he’s not used to talking with kids–or really, to spending any time with them.

Another good point for the movie is that there’s actually some time spent on Marisa’s life beyond the drudgery; she’s well-liked by her fellow maids, but also by nearly everyone else she works with. We get the impression that she goes above and beyond, being that proverbial “team player”, so that when they come together to play fairy (team) godmother, it’s believable on a couple of levels: it’s only fair, because Marisa has done them plenty of not-quite-by-the-book favors, and, also, hey, here’s one of their own, living it up.

The casting for most of the speaking parts is truly inspired: Bob Hoskins as a butler; Natascha Richardson as a guest; Stanley Tucci as the smarmy political operative; all of Marisa’s fellow maids and other below-stairs co-workers are really good. But while I really liked Jennifer López as Marisa Ventura, my biggest issue here is that there was no real chemistry between her and Ralph Fiennes. He’s charming, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t feel any attraction between them. None. Zilch. Nada.

We are supposed to believe that he fell really hard for this woman he just met, and later, after months with no contact whatsoever, that he’s willing to risk his political career for a relationship with her, but there’s just no sexual tension, no sizzle, no…smolder. In this role, Ralph Fiennes is so utterly bland, even the most romantic line in the script becomes utterly forgettable.

True story: there’s a (fade to black montage) love scene after the Cinderella-ball dinner scene, with Ralph Fiennes voice-over, “If tonight is all we have, stay. Please.” It’s the part where we are supposed to believe these two are really gone over for each other.

And I had completely forgotten that this happens.

I remembered most of Marisa’s scenes with every other character. I remembered Stanley Tucci’s oily Jerry. I even remember disliking the use of Ty as the Kid Ex Machina at the end. But the sex scene? So meh and passion-less, I had no memory it was there.

Which, for a genre romance, is a really bad thing. The lack of passion of any kind between the two leads means that, when the big moment at the end comes, I just don’t buy that they will end together.

I noticed that Ralph Fiennes has really nice eyes, but the soulful look in that scene? No emotion, no fire, not the tiniest spark.

I am happy to believe that Marisa will rise up to manager, and that she will lift up her friends and co-workers as she moves up. But I don’t believe a relationship between her and Chris can exist at all, let alone one that lasts beyond a weekend or two.

Mostly because there’s little passion in the script or the acting, but there’s also the fact that Chris Marshall is not just “a wealthy white politician”, he’s a Republican.

Ty, who is ten and says, “what’s the difference these days?” (between Democrats and Republicans), may believe that a Republican with a “consistent stand in environmental causes” can be a good person. I know better. In no version of reality can I believe that a Republican is a good guy, sorry; but even in this version, the script makes it obvious he’s definitely not.

At one point, Chris tells Marisa he’s going to the Bronx to “talk about the projects”. When she asks if he’s going to talk to the people in the projects, he says he’s just dragging the press there for, essentially, a photo op. Then he tells his campaign manager that he’ll go to a particular event and “shake any part of (host)’s body part you want me to”, if Jerry can guarantee that Marisa will be there.

So here we are. MAID IN MANHATTAN is not necessarily terrible, even if (rumor has it) Ralph Fiennes regrets making it. What it is, is not a movie worth watching again. 1

* * * *

1 with apologies for the lovely willaful, who endured it with me–so sorry! I truly didn’t remember it being so…meh.

14 Responses to “Maid in Manhattan (2002) (sort of a movie review)”

  1. Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 9:29 AM #

    I love Ralph Fiennes, but he should never ever play a romantic lead, whether comedic, or tragic. Not that he can’t do comedy, b/c, hey, the sheer genius of Grand Budapest Hotel would prove me wrong. Have you seen his equally wooden performance in the tragic version of this, The End of the Affair? Not even the wild sofa times and a glimpse of Fiennes’s surprisingly ample butt can redeem this lugubrious sleeper. And let’s not even talk about enduring the bloated English Patient…swathed in bandages, he wasn’t bad.

    He was just so pretty, I think directors kept putting him in these clunkers, hoping he could do it. On the other hand, do watch Quiz Show where he managed to be both pretty and brilliant.

    • azteclady 18/04/2022 at 9:46 AM #

      Oh god, you make me laugh! And yes, exactly, he’s pretty (those eyes), but whatever passion he has, it ain’t for the leading lady.

      • Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 10:43 AM #

        *chuckles* I just reread my comment and it was pretty funny.

        I have a theory that certain British actors, like Fiennes, pretty in youth are biding their time, to get old and ugly, so they can finally play the roles they’re always to, on stage. Here’s His Prettiness on-stage:

      • azteclady 18/04/2022 at 1:43 PM #

        Yes, some men (okay, people in general, but men especially), need the maturity of age, to have the presence/gravitas for certain parts.

        (Pierce Brosnan once said that he had better luck landing parts once he “grew into his face”)

      • Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 2:06 PM #

        Sadly, female actresses don’t have the same. Maybe Frances McDormand?

      • azteclady 18/04/2022 at 2:32 PM #

        I actually think that Jane Fonda, for one, became a more credible actress as she aged; same with Emma Thomson, Helen Birren, and a few others; but yes, what usually happens is that directors and producers turn to younger actresses for lead roles, and if they are 20-30 years younger than the leading man they’re clearly paired with (even in action roles), oh well, that’s how it is.

      • Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 2:58 PM #

        Shouldn’t be, but yes. Harrumph.

      • Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 2:58 PM #

        Shouldn’t be, but yes. Harrumph.

        On a happier note, have you ever thought of a buddy-watch of Greenfingers, speaking of Helen Mirren?

      • azteclady 18/04/2022 at 3:33 PM #

        I had never heard of it, it sounds charming!

      • Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 4:13 PM #

        Oh, you would love it WAY better than Maid. The other one I LOVE is Crossing Delancey!

  2. Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 10:44 AM #

    Sorry, how garbled: *pretty in youth,* and *they’ve always wanted to*

  3. willaful 18/04/2022 at 2:24 PM #

    It was fine! I mean, you’re right about everything, but it was an enjoyable waste of two hours. 😉 I did not feel Fiennes *at all*, he was Instantly Forgettable White Dude for me. But Lopez and all the other characters were good.

    • azteclady 18/04/2022 at 2:32 PM #

      Fiennes seemed to be in another movie altogether, didn’t he?

  4. Miss Bates 18/04/2022 at 4:15 PM #

    LOL! I think rom-com for Fiennes is like Hegel’s definition of history, something along the lines of “a nightmare from which one cannot awaken.”

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