Maid in Manhattan

Maid in Manhattan (  )

The title probably came first, followed by the dream combination of Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes as the mismatched lovers at the heart of this modern-day fairytale in New York.

And it’s perfect, with Lopez as the Cinderella-esque Latino maid whisked off to a midnight ball by her gallant Prince Charming (Fiennes, of course). There are even a couple of ugly sisters in the form of two French kleptomaniacs.

Lopez is Marisa Ventura, a lowly maid and single mum with aspirations of management at the swanky Beresford Hotel. Each day she gets up early to drop her cute son, Ty, off at school. The kid’s bright, and soaks up 1970s politics, particularly the Nixon era. And he’s only ten.

So fate takes a hand when, in the hotel elevator, he meets a big dog called Rufus and his owner – charming, eligible bachelor Chris Marshall, a wannabe Congressman and the darling of the tabloid Press. Impressed with the boy’s knowledge of politics, Chris asks Ty to join him as he walks his dog in Central Park.

But Ty can’t go without asking his mum. When he goes to find Marisa, Marshall follows him, and meets Marisa when she is sneakily trying on an outfit in a guest’s suite. Chris is immediately smitten, and things move far too quickly for Marisa to tell the truth. When their picture is snapped by a paparazzi and hits the next day’s edition of the New York Post, Marisa finds herself in a situation that is all nightmare and no fairytale.

Maid in Manhattan is classy fluff of the best kind – a ludicrous story that exists only in a screenwriter’s imagination and the hearts of audiences everywhere. Of course, it’s been done before with Pretty Woman, and the idea of an ordinary woman rising above adversity has been seen in Legally Blonde, but this is fairytale writ large, and the normal rules of movies don’t apply.

Movie romances rise or fall on the chemistry between their stars, and Maid in Manhattan is no different. Lopez is more popular now than the largely unknown Julia Roberts was back in 1990, while Fiennes oozes old-fashioned charm and charisma as the millionaire with a good heart. Throw in a supporting cast that includes the excellent Stanley Tucci as Fiennes’ ambitious and assiduous PA, Natasha Richardson as an airhead debutante with an eye on Fiennes and Bob Hoskins as a grumpy, all-seeing old butler with a heart of gold, and this beautifully whisked soufflé rapidly becomes the choice dish on this week’s movie menu.

Much of the success of the picture – Notting Hill with the roles reversed – has to be down to the sure hand of director Wayne (The Joy Luck Club) Wang, who takes a simplistic tale and moulds from it one of the most heart-warming, enjoyable tear-jerkers of recent vintage.

You will enjoy this chick flick because it is exactly that: an unlikely Upstairs Downstairs romance between a blue-collar gal and a well-heeled gentleman where love is all that matters.

Simply super.

Star rating: ****

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