Jane Fonda has earned seven well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nominations and won two of those coveted golden statuettes for her work in Coming Home and Klute. But she goes too far over the top with her manic performance in Monster-in-Law. Playing a mother who tries to sabotage her son’s relationship with his fiancée, Fonda made me cringe instead of laugh. She’s incredibly unbelievable here, which completely surprised me because I’m a staunch fan of her brilliant acting in films like Comes a Horseman, The China Syndrome, Julia, and Old Gringo. When I heard Fonda planned a return to the screen after a fifteen year absence, I was delighted.
So much for high expectations. Not helping matters in Monster-in-Law is a ridiculous script that forces Fonda and Jennifer Lopez, who portrays the daughter-in-law-to-be, into unfunny slapstick (with emphasis on “slap”) situations over and over again ad nauseam. And, sadly, the on-screen chemistry between Lopez and Michael Vartan, who plays Fonda’s son, also leaves much to be desired. Although Vartan looks sexy in Alias on TV, he’s oh-so bland here. Granted, this role gives him little to work with, but he could have adopted a more energetic approach instead of relaxing into mediocrity.
Still, many members of the audience at the screening I attended seemed to enjoy Monster-in-Law. Some even laughed uproariously at various scenes, and my husband told me he thought it “wasn’t a bad movie.” Could I be missing something?
Perhaps I’m being too picky. Isn’t there anything humorous, romantic or positive about this movie that I can recall? Well, in thinking it over, I admit Wanda Sykes’ Thelma Ritter-like performance as Fonda’s sarcastic assistant made me smile a bit, as did a brief appearance by Broadway’s wonderful Elaine Stritch at the end of the film. And I’ll give Lopez credit for trying to endow her character with a bit of charm and credibility -- at least until the battles with Fonda start.
After that, Monster-in-Law became torture for me to sit through. I realize there’s a kernel of truth to the theme of mothers not thinking anyone is good enough for their sons or daughters, but none that I know of would go to the lengths Fonda’s character does to break up a relationship (poisoning food, gaslighting, hiring fake doctors and so forth.) Besides, haven’t we seen more amusing depictions of parents objecting to the person their son or daughter wants to marry in movies like Meet the Parents, My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- and yes, even Guess Who?
I think if Monster-in-Law had been a horror flick instead of a comedy, it might have worked for me. As is, it’s just a horror of a movie.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated “PG-13” for sex references and language.)