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Dustin Putman

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Maid in Manhattan (2002)
3 Stars

Directed by Wayne Wang
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Tyler Garcia Posey, Bob Hoskins, Stanley Tucci, Natasha Richardson, Marissa Matrone, Amy Sedaris, Chris Eigeman, Maddie Corman
2002 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 14, 2002.

If one were to cross "Cinderella" with "Pretty Woman," the result would probably look something like "Maid in Manhattan." A winning romance—one of the best in the genre this year—the film is aided immeasurably from the smart direction by Wayne Wang (1999's "Anywhere But Here") and yet another wonderful star turn from Jennifer Lopez (2001's "Angel Eyes").

Marisa Venture (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother living in the Bronx who works as a maid at New York City's prestigious Beresford Hotel. When a chance encounter with handsome politician Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) while she is trying on a guest's ritzy outfit leads him to believe she is a wealthy socialite, Marisa likes him too much to tell him the truth about her profession and social status. Being seen with a man in public who is running for State Senator, however, causes an onslaught of press and paparazzi, which threatens not only her true identity, but also her job and a burgeoning relationship that Marisa is afraid she will lose.

The romantic comedy genre is nothing new, nor is the subject of mistaken identity, and in most cases it is obvious where the story is going to go and how everything is going to work out. "Maid in Manhattan" is no exception to these predictable conventions, but what it lacks in surefire originality it more than makes up for in entertainment value and a tendency to dodge caricatures. All of the characters on display are realistically written in a screenplay by Kevin Wade (1998's "Meet Joe Black"), and the statement the film makes about the relationship between the wealthy and the working-class rings with truth.

Surely, any movie in which a character misleads someone else into believing they are somebody they are not would be over in ten minutes if the characters would just say the things required to clear up the situation. If this were to occur, though, the movie would be over almost before it began. Director Wayne Wang has some fun setting up uncomfortable situations in which maid Marisa has to dodge hotel guest Christopher, but he wisely doesn't repeat it to the point of overkill. In between these comic moments are a delightful romance between Marisa and Christopher—who avoids cliche by not caring about Marisa's background when he discovers her real identity—and a rather astute depiction of what a maid's job entails and what their days are like.

Jennifer Lopez may or may not be the diva she has been written to be, but either way her charisma cannot be denied. Lopez brings warmth and a knowledgeable weariness to her role of Marisa, who may just be a maid, but has higher aspirations in life and refuses to let others get her down. Her loving relationship with her son, Ty (scene-stealer Tyler Garcia Posey), is also nicely rounded and believable. As Christopher, Ralph Fiennes (2002's "Red Dragon") makes for a suitably handsome and dapper love interest, and how refreshing to see him in a second consecutive role not set in the 19th-century. Ably filling out the supporting players are Natasha Richardson (1998's "The Parent Trap"), as a high society hotel patron whose clothes Marisa is trying on when she meets Christopher; Bob Hoskins (1999's "Felicia's Journey") as devotional butler Lionel; and newcomer Marissa Matrone as Marisa's best friend and co-worker Stephanie.

You may know where "Maid in Manhattan" is leading at all times, but it succeeds where many others have failed ("Sweet Home Alabama" being a recent example) by actually being romantic and side-stepping tedium. Jennifer Lopez's Marisa is a genuinely likable and developed heroine who guides the viewer along with her as she makes some mistakes and then does what she can to set things right. Spending 105 minutes with her in "Maid in Manhattan" is an undemanding and always enjoyable time.

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman