There is not one original bone in the skeleton of Maid in Manhattan. It borrows with great abandon from Working Girl, Notting Hill, and Pretty Woman.
But under the hand of director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), it borrows well enough so that the sense of familiarity is one of comfort, not disdain. We understand the conventions of such a romantic comedy, and the foreknowledge that the couple is destined for each other allows us to concentrate on the pleasure of the journey.
And it doesn't hurt at all that the two principals - Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes - are magnetic performers who command attention by merely showing up.
However, they do more than that. Not once does anyone give the impression that this was an easy paycheck. Not once do viewers feel the need to excuse a performance's shortcomings.
The movie may be romantic fluff, but the actors are serious about entertaining their audience.
Lopez plays Marisa Ventura, a maid in the suites of a ritzy New York hotel. She is a single mother with a fourth-grade son, Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey).
One day in the hotel, Marisa is enticed to try on some clothing that a guest is returning to a shop. Through one of those complicated chains of events that occur only in romantic comedies, Marisa meets the sophisticated Chris Marshall (Fiennes), an Ivy League type who becomes intrigued by the woman and believes her to be Caroline Lane, a hotel guest.
The Marshalls are one of those old-money families who send their sons into politics to serve the nation. The Venturas are first or second-generation Americans who are trying to find a better life for their children.
Chris has his sights set on winning his late father's Senate seat. Marisa has hers set on getting into the hotel's management program.
It's a match made in heaven, but it's going to take some time for them to realize it.
The supporting cast has a lot to do with the success of Maid in Manhattan. Stanley Tucci plays Chris' exasperated and savvy political adviser. Bob Hoskins gives a beautifully understated performance as a butler at the hotel who becomes Marisa's mentor. Natasha Richardson is flashy and pushy playing the real Caroline Lane, a buyer for Sotheby's who has her eye on becoming Mrs. Marshall.
Then there's Posey. This young actor is so engaging, he steals every scene he's in. His character is the catalyst for Chris and Marisa's meeting, and, like Tom Cruise and Jonathan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire, Chris starts out liking the boy - a lot - before he gets to know the mother.
There's an idea. If you get tired of waiting for Chris and Marisa to figure out they should be together, you can count all the movies from which Maid in Manhattan borrowed. Either way, the 105 minutes will fly by.
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