J.Lo at your service: Tip Maid with some chuckles
Pretty Woman almost meets The American President in Maid in Manhattan; but these are the Bush years, so the latest cinematic Cinderella story is about a maid winning the affection of an assemblyman who's considering running for the Senate.
Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is not just a maid– and potential manager– at New York's Beresford Hotel. She's also the single mother of "a 10-year-old Nixon aficionado," Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey). She's a great maid, a great mom, and a great person with "Most Likely to Succeed" stamped across her ample derriere.
But no one could imagine how she will succeed. Marisa happens to be trying on a guest's Dolce & Gabana outfit when Ty picks up Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) in the elevator and brings him upstairs to meet mamacita. Chris assumes Marisa's a guest, especially when she takes a long lunch hour and goes walking in Central Park with him, Ty, and Chris' dog Rufus.
From there things get even more absurd, in a pleasantly old-fashioned, screwball comedy sort of way. Marisa takes off when Chris, who thinks her name is Caroline, asks her to go to a fancy fundraiser with him. He sends a note to "her" suite inviting her to a private luncheon in his suite, but of course the real Caroline (Natasha Richardson) gets it and thinks it's intended for her.
Marisa has to serve the lunch, but hotel butler Lionel (Bob Hoskins) works with her and helps her avoid being seen by Chris. Even though the maids' creed is "strive to be invisible" it's such an improbable idea the scene is kept short because screenwriter Kevin Wade and director Wayne Wang couldn't figure out between them how to implement it.
Well, Cinderella does go to the ball, which three fairy godmothers– co-workers, including Marisa's best friend Stephanie (Marissa Matrone)– dress her for. "It's a dream," Stephanie tells her, "and you're living it for all of us."
She's living it for the audience, too. Chris is too nice a guy for a politician, but he's following in his father and grandfather's footsteps. His campaign manager, Jerry Siegel, (Stanley Tucci) can't control him, and the press won't leave him alone because of his reputation as a ladies' man. When he's suddenly photographed with a beautiful Latina, no one makes the obvious connection that he's trying to steal votes from his Latin opponent (which wouldn't occur to him either).
Maid in Manhattan is so politically naïve that we're told Chris is a Republican, yet Ty is impressed with his voting record on environmental issues. And Ty is supposed to be an intelligent 10-year-old! I know the parties are becoming more alike all the time, but Chris certainly acts like a Democrat.
Maid in Manhattan has a fine cast of mostly New York-based actors. Richardson has fun playing a flake, and Tucci is easier to take in supporting than leading roles. Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) is wasted as a hotel executive, as is Priscilla Lopez (A Chorus Line) as Marisa's mother.
The real discovery is Tyler Garcia Posey, a kid even W.C. Fields would love. Although he can't help having some movie-kid phoniness about him because of the way the part is written, he gives the story a certain grounding in reality and is a real charmer.
The future Mrs. Affleck, while she still doesn't exactly have a light touch, fares much better with this romantic comedy than she did in The Wedding Planner; and calling attention to her famous butt is good for a couple of laughs. Fiennes, known more for heavy drama, lightens up well and is a prince fit for any Cinderella.
It's refreshing to see a Hollywood product dealing, however superficially, with the issue of class in America; but Maid in Manhattan still qualifies as holiday escapism, and as such should clean up at the box office.