It’s not too difficult to pinpoint exactly where Marisa Ventura went wrong. In Wayne Wang’s latest interracial gut-buster, Jenny From The Block fools Ralph Fiennes into thinking she’s from money when he accidentally catches her trying on a society bitch’s Dolce & Gabanna couture. He’s a white man aiming for a Senate seat. She’s a Puerto Rican maid aiming for a managerial position at the Bereford Hotel. Together they form a black-and-white cookie—manufactured in Hollywood for middlebrow audiences easily tickled by—though not necessarily afraid of—minorities leaving their ethnic jungles. Screenwriter Kevin Wade ensures that the kids talk funny, everyone has a wise-cracking sidekick (someone please revoke Stanley Tucci’s SAG card now!) and that Marisa’s gal pals assert their power via song n’ dance. (The only surprise here may be that the film’s dark-skinned charmers don’t get to groove to something predictable like “We Are Family.”) Maid in Manhattan is considerably less offensive than one might expect if only because the film’s debasement rituals are employed with equal opportunity. If the white people seen here are thoroughly disgusting (they’re Republicans, thieves, loudmouths, racists, etc.) then the Latin folk take their oppression in stride. In classic passive-aggressive mode, Marisa allows Fiennes’s Senator Marshall to think she does more than scrub toilets and, in trying to shake him loose, manages to teach him a lesson or two about her people. By film’s end, Marisa swallows her shame and accepts her second-class citizenship with pride while Marshall and America learn to love their exotic asset. For authenticity’s sake, Lopez gets to call her son “papa” several times throughout the film and while her scenes with the young Tyler Posey are rather charming, J. Lo never really engages nor returns the sexual chemistry Fiennes throws her way. Lopez appears less self-involved here than she does in her video for “Jenny From The Block” though her empowerment in Maid in Manhattan comes not under her own terms but at the sad cost of her repeated humiliation before the film’s white contingencies.
- Wayne Wang
- Kevin Wade
- Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Tyler Posey, Marissa Matrone, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci, Bob Hoskins, Amy Sedaris
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