Maid in Manhattan is yet another take on the Cinderella story. There are very few surprises but the film is still somewhat enjoyable despite its predictable setup. Cinderella aka Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hardworking no-nonsense single mom who loves her son Ty (Tyler Posey) and dreams of breaking out of her job as a maid at a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Her Fairy Godmother aka co-worker Stephanie (Marissa Matrone) unwittingly gives her that chance when she convinces Marisa to try on some expensive clothes left in a suite by the Evil Stepsister aka spoiled socialite Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson) while they're cleaning. In walks Prince Charming aka Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) an incredibly handsome U.S. senator candidate and the city's most eligible bachelor and Boom! sparks fly. Chris thinks Marisa is the expensive suite's occupant--and she's too overwhelmed by the domino effect that happens to tell him different. Ah what a tangled web love at first sight can weave. Marisa spends the rest of the movie trying to cover up her error in judgment while also becoming increasingly drawn to her prince. Will he find out who she really is? Of course. Will it matter in the end? Of course not.
This may have been created as another vehicle to help further propel the career of actress/singer/designer/fiancee to Ben Affleck J. Lo but unexpectedly someone else comes out of the film looking better--Fiennes. It's little hard even for Jenny on the Block to outshine an Oscar-nominated actor. He elevates the formulaic subject matter and portrays a pretty down-to-earth Prince Charming without us ever seeing a forced move. I'm curious as to why such a high-caliber actor would choose such a run-of-the-mill project like this but whatever the reason he makes it work--at least for his part. Lopez doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. In fact it looks like she may have simply cloned the same expressions she put on in her other successful romantic comedy The Wedding Planner. And unfortunately Lopez and Fiennes don't share the same kind of heat she shared in that film with Matthew McConaughey or even George Clooney in Out of Sight (still her best performance to date). Yet they manage to convey a fair amount of good feelings to make the movie palatable. Richardson has a blast playing the rich bitch Caroline while Matrone making her film debut just comes off as annoying and pushy even if she thinks she's doing the right thing. Thank goodness she is because if things had turned out badly it would be in Marisa's best interest to go out and shoot her. Stanley Tucci as Christopher's watchdog campaign manager and Bob Hoskins as a senior-level butler at the hotel both do the best they can with silly parts.
Maid in Manhattan relies so heavily on the been-there-done-that Cinderella formula it becomes one of those romantic comedies you'll end up waiting to watch on cable one Saturday night rather than paying to see in a movie theater. It's really a shame because director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) had some interesting elements to play with and lots of acting talent to back it up. Perhaps Lopez could have played Marisa more wacky than so serious maybe try to show some comic ability. It would be a nice change of pace to think out of the box for once--what if the lovestruck pair didn't get together in the end? (I know the film would have fallen flat on its face.) But instead Maid wallows in predictability and implausibility. Christopher falls a little too hard and a little too fast for reality. Also it's hard to believe a maid would have access to all the hotel's amenities as Marisa does--borrowing a Harry Winston diamond necklace from the hotel jewelry store for the gala event? Unlikely to say the least. The only aspect of the film that stands out is the sneak peek you get into the inner workings of a top-notch hotel. It's definitely a world you don't get to see very often.
Based on actual events The Believer tells the story of young "Jewish Nazi" Danny Belint once a promising Yeshiva student from Queens. But now disillusioned by Judaism he is an active member of an anti-Semitic band of hoodlums who terrorize Jews and plan attacks against them. He also frequents meetings with self-styled fascist intellectual Curtis Zampf and his wealthy dragon lady companion Lina Moebius. Danny's effete father and sister are clueless about his anti-Semitic activities. And his fellow skinheads with whom he schemes and trains at retreats are unaware of his Jewish background. In conversations with several concentration-camp survivors as part of a sensitivity-training session ordered by a judge after Danny and his gang are hauled in for violence Danny provides clues for his twisted hatred when he blames Jewish passivity and fear for the tragedy of the Holocaust. But Danny's cover is soon shaken when a journalist who has learned that Danny is Jewish presses him for more information. After violent incidents involving synagogue damage and an assassination attempt Danny's life takes a sharp and fatal turn when his lover Carla Lina's daughter triggers in Danny a renewed passion for Judaism and its rituals.
Ryan Gosling's turn as young neo-Nazi Danny is worth more than the price of admission. He delivers a stunning career-making performance that is as disturbing as it is believable. Gosling who has moved on to studio features since his Believer role two years ago gets terrific support from the other actors including Summer Phoenix as beautiful lover Carla Theresa Russell as Carla's fanatical mother Lina and Billy Zane as Lina's sinister companion Curtis.
As brave as he is skilled writer/director Henry Bean does a superb job of conveying the chilling atmosphere and psychological confusion that can turn profound hatred into acts of violence. He also deserves credit for fashioning a convincing script rife with the intellectual questions and issues that can give rise to hatred. Bean's real coup was giving Gosling the guidance and space to deliver so extraordinary a performance. Bean's eye and ear for the authentic are apparent everywhere with both the decent folk and the hateful bigots soaring far beyond cliche or caricature.
Judging from critics' comments, Angel Eyes was calculated to appeal to men as a cop thriller (with the sexy Jennifer Lopez as the cop) and to women as a weepy love story. The critics disagree on how well the filmmakers have been able to make such a hybrid viable. Clearly (male) critic Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post wasn't reaching for the Kleenex. "During an endless, maudlin last act, it becomes more and more difficult not to laugh -- or barf -- as the protagonists tearfully come to terms with their issues," he writes. (Female) Rita Kempley begins her review in the Washington Post this way: "When she's not slamming thugs the size of sumo wrestlers upside the hood of her squad car, Jennifer Lopez's butt-busting heroine in Angel Eyes is boo-hoo-hooing in the privacy of her lonely room. J-Lo is Jell-O on the inside. Sniff." On the other hand, Ray Conlogue in the Toronto Globe and Mail describes the film as "a smoothly written romantic film which has the discipline to avoid what its producer Mark Canton calls the 'otherworldly forces' (ghosts, angels) which have infected recent popular romances like City of Angels and Ghost." Jay Carr, also describes the movie positively for the most part. It's "a billowy romance that has date movie written all over it," he writes. "This is a surprisingly effective film," says Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "For what it is, [it's] not bad," Bob Longino remarks in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune, however, has a less benevolent attitude -- perhaps because it is set in Chicago. The movie, he says, "tries to pump real emotions into a never-never Chicago that has been glamorized and thrillerized almost out of recognition. It's not the usual kind of big-studio mediocrity. It's a slicker sellout, full of phony-sounding greeting-card idealism."