Jenny From the Crock
Maid in Manhattan, in which Jennifer Lopez goes from pauper to princess, comes not from a screenplay but from a handful of self-help books and fairy tales and fashion magazines cut and pasted together in a glossy montage. Characters, made from the highest-grade cardboard and resplendent in the latest Dolce & Gabbana silks, do not talk to each other but at one another in glib aphorisms: “Anything is possible”; “You don’t know what you can do till you have to”; “These are the golden years — don’t waste ’em”; “What we do does not define us. What defines us is how we rise after we fall.” They group-dance to Diana Ross’ anthem “I’m Coming Out,” a sure sign of impending liberation from working-class shackles. Maid in Manhattan plays like something Dr. Phil and Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw might have written during a commercial break.
We know nothing of our protagonists save that they’re beautiful people who will wind up with each other, race and class be damned. Lopez, as hotel maid Marisa, will occasionally say something wise and pithy about living conditions in the ghetto — she is, after all, still Jenny from the block — or mouth off to her mama about how she has every right to date rich, white plutocrat Chris Marshall (played by Ralph Fiennes, whose teeth now resemble slices of Wonder Bread). But in the end, she winds up with Fiennes not because she is plucky but because she is Jennifer Lopez.
Chris, the most blandly handsome Republican since Dan Quayle, falls for Marisa not because of who she is deep down but for her surface — because she looks just like J. Lo. Fiennes (R. Fi?) is immediately smitten because he sees her in purloined designer threads and mistakes her for a guest in the hotel, not the maid who was sent to make the bed. Before he knows a single thing about her, they’re walking in Central Park, making meaningless small talk and falling in love (and into bed, under the most disquieting and duplicitous of circumstances). That’s just the way things happen in movies like this.
When the truth is revealed and Chris discovers Marisa is but a lowly servant, he frets and stares into space, but we never believe their happy ending is in doubt. After all, their Cupid is Marisa’s ten-year-old son, Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey), an aspiring Young Republican with a Nixon fetish, and Marisa is surrounded by a cheering gang of multicultural maids who prod her on to a better life. She’s so damned wonderful that even when her reckless and selfish behavior jeopardizes the job of the hotel’s head butler (played by a quietly dignified Bob Hoskins), he forgives and supports her.
Director Wayne Wang once manufactured gauzy art-house movies aimed at the cineplex crowd (The Joy Luck Club), but he finally gave in and gave up (Anywhere but Here). He and screenwriter Kevin Wade (responsible for Meet Joe Black, in which Brad Pitt played Death, and we prayed for it) likely imagined Maid as a Cinderella with a social conscience, their heroine a Puerto Rican poster girl for empowerment. But their Manhattan sparkles in a way that would blind even Woody Allen. When the filmmaker peers behind the doors separating the swank hotel’s staff from its precious guests (including Natasha Richardson as a wealthy pain in the ass who believes Chris fancies her), they find not a Gosford Park but rather a sitcom populated by lovable archetypes who dream of moving up by marrying up. There is no room for commentary of any kind, caustic or satiric, in a movie inhabited by millionaires dreaming of marrying other millionaires, all of them drearily bankrupt.