Maid in Manhattan

Dec 18, 2002 at 12:00 am

Once upon a time in the pictorially pleasing city of New York there lived a young Latina woman named Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) who had a son called Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey) and a job as a maid in a fancy, very upscale hotel. One day, urged on by a mischievous co-worker, she decides to try on the clothes of one of the hotel’s residents and while in this haute couture outfit runs into Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), a politician running for senator who’s headquartered in the hotel. Naturally, she pretends to be the woman to whom the clothes belong, which leads to a series of mix-ups, good times, bad luck and other turnarounds before the inevitable happy ending. And that’s about it.

But then if you go to see a movie called Maid in Manhattan, you probably don’t go expecting any more. It’s a familiar story that moves along in a well-oiled manner, theoretically buoyed by the charm of its stars and the amusing antics of its supporting cast (with the exception of Bob Hoskins, who seems to have wandered in from the set of an especially dour Merchant-Ivory production).

The pairing of J-Lo and Fiennes is the movie’s most original touch, the natural actress and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art-trained actor finding corollary roles as guileless commoner and practiced politician. The second original touch is making Fiennes a Republican, which in movies is more often the designation of a villain. True, he’s a New York Republican, which makes him a moderate liberal, and true, his campaign manager, played by Stanley Tucci, takes on the onus of being the nasty guy who seems as much affronted by J-Lo’s ethnicity as by her character’s low social standing. But still, in the movie’s eager-to-please context, making Fiennes-Marshall a member of the devil’s party seems like a ballsy move.

But only “seems,” since politics is only a passing plot detail here, a background note for this Cinderella story which assures us that good and decent people will somehow manage to find each other and live happily ever after. Which is a crock, though in this case a mildly entertaining one.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].