I have a friend who has always loved Ralph Fiennes. I’d never really got on board with him as a concept until Skyfall. But she was always trying to convince me that there was more to him. Maid in Manhattan was always my go-to argument. I mean it’s such a stupid film full of people doing stupid things. And J Lo man. Although, I’ve definitely changed my opinion of her since watching Hustlers. It only seemed fair that I go back and find out if it was as bad as I remembered. Or have I been doing Jenny from the Block a disservice all these years? I doubted it but I did need to find something to watch for tonight and this was there. And, dammit, I love Natasha Richardson. Is it the role she’s remembered for? No, but she’s definitely one of the best things in it.
Let me tell you why I hate romantic-comedies: they always rely on people making totally unrealistic decisions. In real life, nobody would get themselves caught in such a huge web of lies. I know when it comes to love, people often pretend to be somebody they’re not but there has to be a limit. The whole story relies on people never speaking to each other or asking questions. People just accept everything so readily and it’s sorted. No human being has ever acted like anyone in a romantic comedy. Yet, audiences eat them up. And the more audiences eat them up, the less that writers care about making decent rom-coms. It’s a horrible cycle of awful films.
And it doesn’t get much worse than this ridiculous concept. After an absolutely insane misunderstanding, J Lo (or Marisa) gets mistaken for a rich woman staying in a hotel suite instead of a maid cleaning one. But that’s what happens when she bumps into Ralph Fiennes’ senatorial candidate. He is, obviously, instantly smitten with J Lo and, because she’s wearing a borrowed Dolce coat, mistakenly believes she is a socialite. So, he is incredibly shocked when he invites the guest from the suite to afternoon tea and it turns out to be Natasha Richardson’s irritating Caroline. With Chris trying to find his mystery woman and Marisa desperately trying to avoid him, will the pair ever work everything out?
Despite my ranting, my main problem with this film is its insistence that the fairy tale narrative is still every little girl’s dream. The idea that people who aren’t born into a wealthy family are sat at home dreaming of a handsome, wealthy man to save them from their life of drudgery. Although, when you look at it, Marisa doesn’t have a bad life. She’s not married and isn’t exactly swimming in money but she’s happy. It’s meeting the rich stranger that causes all of her problems. She goes from being an independent woman on the road to hotel management to being jobless and hounded by the press. But we’re still meant to believe that pair are soulmates.
Something that isn’t helped by the utter lack of chemistry between the two leads. We’re meant to believe that these two fell in love during their first meeting but the evidence isn’t there on-screen. Ralph Fiennes looks like he’s regretting every minute and J Lo just looks bored. I understand that part of the appeal of romantic comedies is that it’s all so familiar and predictable. But this isn’t just familiar and predictable: it’s lazy and dull. The best part of this film is the moment that Bob Hoskin’s character resigns from his job. Nothing that happens between the main two characters is remotely interesting or memorable.
And it feels as though the film is trying to make a point about class and snobbery but it never actually makes anything of it. Except to keep pointing out how outrageous it is that a wannabe senator could possibly want to date a maid. It’s a film that feels so outdated and unnecessary. Yet it feels justified because, in the end, we see a photo of J Lo on the cover of Hotel Manager monthly or whatever bullshit title that gave that fake magazine. Is it a dreadful film? Probably not. There are definitely worse ones out there. But is it a good film? Is it a film that was worth taking the time to make? Hell no.