Cinderella! How many times have we seen this story? Maid in Manhattan is the latest romantic comedy with a Cinderella plot: girl not-so-well off falls for man exceptionally well-off – and love triumphs over status.
Jennifer Lopez plays Marisa, a maid in a posh New York hotel struggling to raise her son alone and trying to get ahead in the world. She’s a great worker, a good mom, and a popular gal among her co-workers. When Stephanie (played delightfully by Marissa Matrone), another maid, talks Marisa into trying on a mega-dollar outfit being returned to the store, Marisa allows herself what she believes will be a moment of luxury. But while dressed to the nines, she is mistaken by the guest in the adjoining suite, Senatorial candidate Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), as a hotel guest – one he wants to take out.
Smitten by more than his social status, Marisa feels a connection with Christopher but tries to find a way out of a date with him until her son, Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey), forms a bond with Christopher’s dog and urges her to agree.
Lopez gives a credible and entertaining performance as Marisa, finding the perfect balance as the sympathetic, struggling mother and the soft romantic woman still hoping there is someone very special out there for her. Of course, on her date with Fiennes’ character, she stumbles onto one wrong road after another.
"I knew this girl better than any character I had ever come across," said Lopez. "I understood the feeling of being on the outside looking in and not allowing herself to dream of a better life for herself."
Although Fiennes often takes on roles with deeper meaning, female fans who drooled over him as the romantic lead in The English Patient get a chance to do the same here. In Maid in Manhattan, Fiennes handles the man-on-the-chase very sensibly; neither pushy, egotistical nor overbearing. He found the charm of the film very likable.
"It deals with people’s aspirations and fantasies," he said. "The real comedy grows out of people who find themselves in realistic situations."
While Fiennes and Lopez may not seem unlikely candidates for a romantic comedy, director Wayne Wang probably is. With films such as Smoke, Chan is Missing and The Joy Luck Club to his credit, why did producer Deborah Schindler consider him to helm Maid in Manhattan? "He has demonstrated a very sure command of character-driven pieces," she explained.
Wang accepted the Maid in Manhattan assignment because, as he says, "It wasn’t filled with easy gags and implausible romance. The humor resonates, and the love story builds in a completely believable way."
A good story with humor and great performances – many by supporting actors like Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci, and Bob Hoskins – Maid in Manhattan won’t disappoint viewers who love Cinderella romances.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for some language and sexual references.)