Hollywood has been especially harsh on its aging actresses lately; not since the late ‘60s have there been so many divas coming out of the woodwork to ham it up for lame laughs. Barbra Streisand did gross-out humor for Meet the Fockers and Faye Dunaway discovered a level beneath rock-bottom by hosting the reality program The Starlet. Now Jane Fonda emerges from a 15-year retirement to co-star in Monster-in-Law, a paint-by-numbers comedy vehicle in which our Miss Zeitgeist startlingly adds “mean drag queen” to her extensive résumé of radical personas. As Viola Fields, a snarling, psychopathic lush who tries to get rid of prospective daughter-in-law Jennifer Lopez, Fonda chews the scenery with such desperate abandon that she seems ready and willing to sink her teeth into J. Lo’s ass if necessary. This might be fun if it seemed that she was having a good time, but Fonda’s ravaged anxiety is too disturbing and emotional for comedy. She rolls and narrows her eyes, winks up a storm, gnashes her teeth, strangles a Britney Spears-type singer, wears turbans, cackles maniacally, and can’t seem to lose the jitters. At close to 70, she shows off her still lithe body with all the nervous “love me?” aplomb of her Barbarella days. Lopez reacts amateurishly to Fonda’s brittle, furious overacting, and it’s laughable, even obscene, to see her playing yet another working girl when she looks like the most indolent, pampered woman on the planet. As her fiancée, Michael Vartan has nothing to do, and poor Wanda Sykes tries her best as Fonda’s wisecracking assistant. The script can’t even get from A to B without the seams showing. Elaine Stritch is used as a sort of diva ex machina to wrap things up, and she looks at Fonda as if to say, “Jane, honey, relax already.”
I don't know how much money Jennifer Lopez's character makes temping, but the Melrose Place-style apartment complex she calls home looks like a million dollars. The greenery is lush and J. Lo's skin looks flawless. Oh, yeah, Jane Fonda looks great too. The audio track is less fabulous but every sniff, meow, and scratch of the film's protracted catfight comes through loud and clear.
The commentary track included here appears to be a composite of two different ones: one by director Robert Luketic and Wanda Sykes and a second by Luketic and director of photography Russell Carpenter and production designer Missy Stewart. The combination of the two isn't exactly seamless, but it's a fun listen, especially for Luketic's elaborate explanation of how Fonda came to be involved with the project. On disc one, widescreen and full screen versions of the film are available, there's also a soundtrack preview and trailers for A New World, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Wedding Crashers. On disc two: seven deleted and alternate scenes, "Ruby's Make-up Bag" starring Sykes in the role of the Britney Spears-type singer Fonda assaults in the film, a bizarre gag reel that combines bloopers from interviews with the cast, four featurettes devoted to the film's divas (Fonda, Lopez, Luketic, and Vartan), two mini docs about the film's fashion and the lifestyle of Los Angeles Luketic wanted to evoke, teasers, trailers, and a bunch of sneak previews.
Thanks to "Keepin' it Real with Jennifer" I now know that J. Lo is really a nice person. It remains to be seen, though, who's going to want to pay $28.98 for what amounts to PR spin.