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Maid In Manhattan

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: PG-13 (Some language/sexual references)

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci and Bob Hoskins

Screenplay by: Kevin Wade
Story by: Edmond Dantes

Directed by: Wayne Wang

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $27.94

Features: Theatrical Trailers, Weblink

Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)

Released: March 25th, 2003

 

 

Didn't this movie JUST come out?

Essentially a modern Cinderella-type story, Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a maid who works for a renowned New York City hotel. Marisa is a single mother, simply doing her assorted duties to help the guests without ever really being noticed. Yet when her son Ty (Tyler Posey) meets New York senator candiate Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) in an elevator and leads her to a room she's working on in the hotel, lives are about to be changed. Or are they?

Even though Chris ran into Marisa before, this second meeting is much different. For one, Marisa is wearing a guest's pricey outfit and Chris mistakes her for someone else. The two do hit it off, but Marisa is determined to run from what she has done in fears of her true identity being revealed. Of course, this all leads to a romantic caper of fate and destiny, people from two different worlds and mistaken identity.

"Maid In Manhattan" is certainly one of the better romantic comedies I've seen over the years, but it is not masterful or anything like that. I must admit it was actually nice to be entertained by a film with comedic and romantic elements that was not overridden in body fluid or tons of sexual jokes. It's actually a very sweet film in that family sorta way, and to my surprise this film was slapped with a PG-13 rating whereas it probably could have gotten a PG (but we all know how crazy the MPAA is).

The story, by Edmond Dantes (AKA John Hughes, who at first was going to make his directorial comeback with this movie) and the screenplay by Kevin Wade is actually not bad. The characters throughout are actually likeable, if not very predictable. There are some genuine clever moments and funny one-liners, and it is rather romantic. The dialogue sounds natural enough, and the dramatic elements are just as even with the romantic comedy ones. In essence though, the film's plot is nothing new. It's yet another film to deal with social classes and it's another "dreams come true story" for someone who might be labeled a nobody. I must admit though that the film handles its content and subject matter much better than I expected. Sure, there are some clichés throughout, but it handles what the film is trying to say rather well without overdoing it (I really did like how the single mother thing was not overdone, as Marisa's ex-husband and his relationship with Ty is briefly alluded to toward the start of the movie).

The themes of social classes are also done very well, which did take me by surprise. Some very good points are made about the power of fame and wealth, and what REALLY makes up a person. The rich/poor stuff is articulated and layered very well, especially through the main characters and what connects them. I also thought it was pretty neat in that the film gives the audience a glimpse of the life of a maid. No, it's nothing documentary-style or in-depth, but it still is pretty enjoyable.

It also does tackle one of my favorite themes, that being fate and destiny. But isn't preachy about it as it takes a strikingly subtle route that allows viewers to make the connection. Some strong scenes include a fight with Marisa and her mother about being true to yourself and Marisa and Stephanie (Marissa Matrone) fighting over Marisa's own inhibitions to become a hotel manager. It's all fine and it's all nice, and simplicity does work in this case. This is a mainsteam movie that is sure to connect with mainstream audiences.

Unfortuantely, the screenplay is still pretty flawed. Marisa's maid cohorts are rather underdeveloped, perhaps with the exception of Stephanie. But Stephanie, while not exactly tacked-on, is pretty much half-developed. I also didn't buy into Chris falling in love with Marisa, as if she was his soulmate after their rather brief encounters (even if fairy-tales do work like that to an extent usually, I think the film was going for a realistic feel as if this could all come true) and I think the film has way too much exposistion, that while sets up the characters and certain connections (namely Ty and Chris), some of the stuff really goes nowhere.

Wayne Wang, a director I do like, has done a nice job with the film. It all definitely feels like a New York-kind of movie, and you really feel it from the various locations to the exterior shots. The film does move at a brisk pace, but it felt really uneven to me. Those problems probably do lie within the screenplay, as I mentioned. I guess some of the set-up could have been cut down and there could have been even more to Chris and Marisa's relationship to make it more believable. I think there might be too much emphasis on the mistaken identity portion, which does result into some screwball comedy. On a different note, Alan Silverstri's somewhat quirky score also creates a fine reflection of the film itself.

The actors certainly hold their own in the film, and whether you are a fan of Jennifer Lopez or not, she really does a great job in the movie. She does inhabit the character of Marisa quite nicely, but there's an excellent sense of dreaming and enthusiasm in her that is quite natural, all of which that shines through on the screen. Lopez shares great chemistry with Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes, an extraordinary character actor, also does a superb job here. Many thought that he wasn't quite right for the role or isn't exactly a strong leading man (uhh... what about "The End Of The Affair" or "The English Patient"?), but I must disagree. Fiennes has a workable, warm charm that does carry his character. His desperation pursuing to figure out who Marisa exactly is certainly believable. While Fiennes' turn might be a turn-off to some, I hope he does do more roles like this in the future.

It also must be noted that the two strong leads are also backed by an excellent supporting cast. Natasha Richardson is wonderful as the self-centered, obnoxious, naive and even bratty Caroline who mistreats "Maria" and is caught between Marisa and Chris' own love affair; Tyler Posey as Marisa's son Ty nearly steals the movie as being a cute kid with intellect without being annoying (I predict he has a big future in acting); the always reliable Stanley Tucci as Chris' straight and right hand man Jerry (who I believe gets some of the movie's biggest laughs) and Bob Hoskins, who's unusually quiet but wonderfully loyal as a senior hotel worker by the name of Lionel.

I wasn't exactly dying to see "Maid In Manhattan," but I must admit the film was better than I expected. It's a decent, lightweight romantic comedy that works well with its strengths, but is brought down by too much weakness in its script. It's a decent date movie, but by no means is this a classic romantic comedy along the lines of "When Harry Met Sally..." or "Pretty Woman." But as far as pure escapist entertainment where you just want to have a good time, you could certainly do a lot worse than "Maid In Manhattan."

 

To please you widescreen lovers and you mainstreamers who enjoy full screen (which makes sense to include both versions given how successful and mainstream the film was - not to mention the lack of extras), both aspect ratios are included on this release. The widescreen version is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen while the full screen version is in 1.33:1 (which is heavily cropped so do ignore that one if you can). Still, both presentations do look pretty nice. Fleshtones are quite accurate, the detail (be it the New York City streets or the hotel) is rather marvelous and color satuation is very bold and quite vibrant.

Still, not to say the transfers don't have their problems. The image is overglossed in edge halos, a whole heap of noise and a ton of shimmering. This gets very annoying very fast. The image is also pretty grainy, and at times seems a bit faded (but for the most part it is pretty sharp_. There's also the slightest bit of edge enhancment that I bet not many will notice. And while there is a piece of dirt here and there, what I enjoyed about the transfer is that the print used is pretty clean so no little marks and distractions get in the way. In all, the transfers are slightly disappointing but get the job done and reflect the film's look for the most part.

 

I felt the same way about the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track the same way I did about the movie: it was much better than I expected (a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included). And while there are some subtle surround effects as far as action on the New York City streets, people working in the hotel or train cars going by, what impressed me most about the mix was just how great the music sounded. The lovely Alan Silvistri score and the songs used in the movie have great dynamics and are creatively mixed throughout and really enraptured me as I watched the film. This is seriously some of the best mixing I've heard for music in a Dolby Digital track in a long while... it really is that good.

Dialogue is not distorted and is quite clear, while the major surrounds themselves do add nice punches and lift this track up a bit. All the elements together pretty much in a pitch-perfect fashion... no fuss, no muss. The use of the subwoofer is much stronger than I anticipated and fidelity is very nice. In all, this is a pretty impressive track and much better than the ones you usually find in romantic comedies, so do enjoy. Also included are English closed captions, English subtitles and French subtitles.

 

Despite that the film was a giant hit during the Christmas 2002 season, it gets jitled in the extra department. While director Wayne Wang doesn't seem to do commentaries, I'm sure some featurettes - be it promotional or on something of substance that deals with the movie - could have been whipped up. But given the quick turnaround time for this DVD release, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that there's nothing here (perhaps there will be a special edition in the future?). In any cae, all you get here is Theatrical Trailers. That's right. You get trailers for "Maid In Manhattan," the upcoming theatrical releases "Anger Management," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Daddy Day Care" as well as another Columbia/Tristar Lopez romantic comedy, The Wedding Planner. All are in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English Dolby Digital 5.1.

There's also a cheap plug for "Maid In Manhattan Style" which is some "fascianting" shopping experience you can access online - the weblink is on a still.

 

I saw this film in the theater less than 10 weeks ago (as I write this) and I must say I'm always amazed when DVDs come out quicker and quicker (I believe the DVD itself was announced when the film was still pretty prime during its theatrical release). Still, "Maid In Manhattan" is a pretty decent romantic comedy and nothing more. If you know you're just going to watch it over and over, then you'll probably want to pick up a copy. Still, the high retail price (by the way, does anyone think $27.94 is a weird price?) and lack of extras is hard to justify a purchase, even if the presentation is rather good. So if you're looking to spend a night at home with a loved one and want some decent entertainment, then this should make a good rental.