(The Daily Iowan) (U-WIRE) IOWA CITY, Iowa —
Since she burst onto the scene of popular culture with her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the 1997 film “Selena,” Jennifer Lopez has been hailed as a star who can do it all. With success coming in the form of both Billboard hits, runway designs, and box-office success, Lopez seems to be a modern day King Midas, turning everything she touches to gold.
But before we crown Lopez as the next worthy successor to such pop/film stars as Bette Midler or Cher, it is important to look at her film track record with a critical eye.
After “Selena” (we’ll skip “Anaconda”), Lopez struck gold again with a classy portrayal of a tough, no-nonsense cop in Steven Soderbergh’ s “Out of Sight.” But then came “The Cell” (which was hailed as “‘ The Silence of the Lambs’ for dummies”), “The Wedding Planner” (boring and predictable), “Angel Eyes” (if only box offices gave refunds), and “Enough” (bad) which makes one realize that J-Lo is in desperate need for a big screen hit and fast.
So how does a once-automatic, now-questionable movie star go about putting her name in the box office top 10? First, you release a single that says that you know your hometown roots and that you will never forget where you came from. Then, you release a film in which you play a single mother from the inner city desperately struggling to get by.
Sprinkle a little bit of tabloid sugar in there (like, say, an engagement to another huge Hollywood star), and PRESTO, you have what Hollywood likes to term a certifiable hit.
Or do you? Jenny from the Block’s attempt to regain the box office is “Maid in Manhattan.” J-Lo plays Marisa, a maid in a swanky New York hotel who is just trying to make ends meet. Marisa lives with her son Ty, a clever fourth-grader who is obsessed with studying the 1970s and is constantly upset that his dad never comes to see him. Dad’s irresponsible nature forces Ty to spend his weekends at the hotel, waiting for Mom to get off work.
What would a romantic comedy be without a case of mistaken identity? Here, the pawn comes in the form of the Kennedy-esque politician named Chris Marshall (played by a very embarrassed Ralph Fiennes) who befriends the brainy Ty and comes to believe that Ty’s mother is a New York socialite with a biting tongue. Both Chris and Marisa fall in love but the question remains: Will Chris still take Marisa to bed if he knows that Marisa will be making the bed in the morning?
The main problem with “Maid in Manhattan” is that it hardly lives up to any Cinderella story of the past, including Julia Roberts’ now classic “Pretty Woman.” With Roberts, there was a true fish-out-of- water feeling and a playful innocence at the world of riches that she was being exposed to. Roberts shed light on the fact that the world was much more then money and that love can grow and conquer despite any obstacles.
In “Maid in Manhattan,” Lopez is unable to grasp the themes that made “Pretty Woman” such a success. The film struggles immensely to display any sort of realism in its script or any sort of heart from its character.
Ultimately, though, this is Lopez’s film. Although she is sweet and loving to her son, she inevitably comes off as shallow and stiff. There is no underbelly of emotion in her character, and Lopez plays only a tamed-down version of herself.
She may claim that she knows where she came from, but her memory of hard times growing up in the Bronx is awfully cloudy. Lopez is unable to capture any of this authenticity, figuring that by being absolutely, stunningly beautiful, we will forget her acting faults.
Lopez has a long way to go before she can proudly proclaim herself a true movie star. “Maid in Manhattan” goes into her ever-growing list of Must Miss Films. Her newest film sinks like the “Titanic,” and unless Lopez is careful, she, too, will soon go down with the ship.
David Fulco, FILM REVIEW: Deep in land of ‘Maid’-believe. , University Wire, 12-16-2002.