March 10, 2003 -- "Maid in Manhattan" is a romantic comedy that is a lot more serious than most such films. There are relatively few laughs in it, but it is entertaining just the same.
The story is modeled on Cinderella, with the glass slippers being worn by mega-star Jennifer Lopez ("The Wedding Planner") who plays hotel maid Marisa Ventura, the divorced single mother of whip-smart grade-schooler, Ty (played by Tyler Posey). While trying on a very glamorous and expensive dress in the room of a guest, Marisa is seen by another guest, Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes of "Red Dragon"), who, thinking she is a guest at the fancy hotel, instantly falls for her beauty and wit. Marshall tries to date her, but messages sent to her room are intercepted by the guest who stays in the room, the somewhat shrewish Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson of "The Parent Trap"). Caroline thinks the messages are meant for her. Marisa tries to stay out of sight, but the charade can only last so long.
Much of the story revolves around the theme of being true to yourself, having confidence in yourself and working toward your goals. Ty is a smart kid, but he has trouble giving speeches because he gets nervous. Marshall is a good fellow, but he compromises too often when pressured by his worry-wort campaign manager Jerry Siegel (Stanley Tucci of "Road to Perdition"). Marisa wants to become a manager at the hotel, but doesn't have the courage to put in her job application for managerial training positions. The moral of the story is that we should try harder and expect more of ourselves. The story is unnecessarily grim, when it should be lighter. There are some funny scenes here and there as Marisa tries to avoid being seen by some hotel guests, but there are not many laughs in the film. The parallels with Cinderella go so far as to include a fancy ball that Marisa goes to in borrowed clothing and jewelry (that she probably has to return by midnight).
The romance between Marisa and Marshall works very well, however. There is good romantic chemistry between the two. There is also a very nice relationship between Marisa and the hotel's head butler, Lionel Bloch (Bob Hoskins of "Enemy at the Gates"). It is a wonderful performance by Hoskins. He shows just the right touch of dignity, formality and humanity. Tucci also gives an exceptional performance as the harried campaign manager. Another good performance is turned in by Marissa Matrone, who plays Stephanie, another maid who is Marisa's best friend. The story strikes a delicate balance between the Cinderella legend, where the charming prince rescues her from a dreary life, and the self-help notion of Marisa improving her situation by working to get a better job. The movie shows that Marisa is hard-working, smart and independent. She doesn't need a wealthy boyfriend to rescue her (but it would be nice). The film cheats a little bit and tries to have it both ways, but the balance between the two themes is pretty good. This film rates a C+.
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