Before she dazzled on that stripper pole at the Super Bowl, J.Lo was a lowly maid in NYC, cleaning up messes left by the rich and connected. And the Cinderella formula was a winner, with this one written by a well-known filmmaker under an alias.
By Jason Hink
The fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment continue to pump out audience favorites in high definition, filling our shelves with affordably-priced Blu-ray editions of films from all eras of cinema, this time reaching back to the turn of the millennium with 2002’s Maid in Manhattan, directed by Wayne Wang and starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Marissa Matrone, Stanley Tucci and Bob Hoskins. And if you’re ill-equipped to watch Blu-ray discs, don’t worry; Mill Creek has you covered with an included DVD version.
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Current day Noo Yawk City (the post-9/11 comeback year of 2002, that is), Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is be-bopping her way through work, shakin’ her junk and underachieving as a maid in a posh Manhattan hotel, fighting off pressure to apply for a management position at coworker and fellow maid Stephanie’s (Marissa Matrone) insistence. Will Marisa go all movin’-on-up, pulling herself up above her family’s working-class roots? Not if she can help it!
Because Marisa is also a mom to young Ty (Tyler Posey), a smart 10-year-old interested in
dinosaurs and action figures history, particularly the 1970s and Richard Nixon’s presidency (mom Marisa even buys him what he’s always wanted: a copy of the Nixon tapes!). But Ty struggles because his dad’s a deadbeat, skipping out on Ty’s school presentation and generally being an absent piece-o-crap, leaving single mom Marisa (and by extension, the hotel staff) to raise the young buck. How on earth can Marisa apply for and accept the responsibility of a management position in the hotel’s janitorial ranks while finding time to care for Ty during the years he needs his mom the most?
Forget it; turns out, her maid job is the easiest maid job in the world, considering how easily she’s able to sneak out once the plot kicks into high gear. While organizing luggage for a wealthy socialite staying at the hotel named Caroline (Natasha Richardson), Marisa reluctantly tries on Caroline’s fancy clothes at Stephanie’s urging and…ya know what? Yeah, it’s J.Lo; and of course she looks hot in those clothes, lowly-maid-status be damned! It’s only a matter of time that someone spots her and takes an interest, and that someone happens to be politician Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), a State Office Assemblyman who’s racking up media attention as he plans to run for the US Senate. He’s affable, warm, caring, and has a great record on humanitarian and environmental causes. And he’s a Republican(!). Naturally, the Assemblyman falls for Caroline-imposter Marisa, and she’s intrigued just enough to keep up the charade, resulting in some old-fashioned mistaken identity shenanigans before the Cinderella fairy tale kicks into high gear.
RELATED | More 2000s film reviews
Produced by Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures, and released by Sony as a pre-Christmas date-night offering in mid-December 2002, the light, fluffy romantic comedy of Maid in Manhattan scored impressive box office numbers as couples turned out to theaters in droves, no doubt looking for a modern-day equivalent to those lighthearted classic screwball comedies a mere 15 months after the 9/11 attacks destroyed the World Trade Center in NYC. A year and change after the terrorist attacks, the country was healing and in small ways looking to the past for comfort. Maid in Manhattan served as a throwback that scratched that itch—a tidy little diversion from the real world crap we were getting over, or at least a way to forget about it for 1 hour and 46 minutes. Maid in Manhattan opened at No. 1 at the box office on December 13, 2002, with an $18.7 million opening-weekend haul, barely eking out the win over runner-up Star Trek: Nemesis. It’s final worldwide tally of $155 million against a $55 million budget reinforced confidence in Lopez as a bankable star.
And there’s no doubt about it; J.Lo was on fire during this era. I like action, adventure, explosions, horror, death, mayhem and schlock in my movie-watching; at 26, I wasn’t the target audience for films like Maid in Manhattan, but I did catch it via VHS rental. Why? How? Easy answer—I had a girlfriend. And as such, I saw countless rom-coms like this at the time…and giving this one a spin in widescreen HD eventually brought back memories of sitting scrunched up on that beanbag futon cushion in front the old square-box telly in my girlfriend’s apartment back in 2003. And if we didn’t choose to rent Maid in Manhattan that night because she wanted to watch another rom-com, then I guarantee it was chosen because of it’s red hot-at-the-time star—Jennifer Lopez.
Between the start of 2001 and Maid in Manhattan‘s December 2002 bow, J.Lo had amassed success not often seen on such a wide scale in both film and music, along with clothing line ventures that were just as prominent. Lopez’s romantic comedy The Wedding Planner in January 2001 opened atop the box office. That same month, her album J.Lo was released and rocketed to the top of the Billboard 200, marking the first time a woman scored a number one film and album simultaneously in the US. If you were an avid Top 40 radio listener or clubber (I was both), you no doubt remember the hit singles from the J.Lo album: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” “Play,” “Ain’t It Funny,” and “I’m Real” (featuring rapper Ja Rule, a blotto, blackout anthem to many of my club-going nights). Among all this music and between Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner were two more films—the romantic drama Angel Eyes and revenge thriller Enough. Suffice it to say, Jennifer Lopez was everywhere in the early 2000s.
The era would mark her peak as Maid in Manhattan followup, 2003’s Gigli, would begin a slow downturn in the star’s fortunes. She still churned out profitable hits in both film and music throughout the decade, but her high-profile romance with Gigli costar Ben Affleck (“Bennifer,” as the media referred to the couple) took on a life of its own and in many ways overshadowed future work. Nonetheless, subsequent film efforts Shall We Dance (2004), Monster-In-Law (2005) and The Back-up Plan (2010) were box office successes.
But who actually came up with this cutesy throwback story? You wouldn’t know by watching the credits, because the writer uses an alias…but story credit goes to none other than John Hughes, well known for mid-80s coming-of-age stories such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Following Maid in Manhattan, Hughes would net just one more writing credit before his 2009 death at the age of 59 for 2008’s Drillbit Taylor.
Meanwhile, director Wayne Wang would go back the romantic comedy well once again in 2006 with the Queen Latifah vehicle, Last Holiday. Like Maid in Manhattan, it’s also set around the Christmas holiday.
Mill Creek’s Blu-ray/DVD combo presents the film in 1080p HD widescreen on the Blu edition with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. English DTS-HD Master Audio with 5.1 Surround Sound is offered along with English SDH subtitles. Image quality looks just fine on my living room set.
It’s hard to believe just how long ago the year 2002 already is. But despite its age, Maid in Manhattan plays like a timeless farce that should hold up just fine for most Millennial and Gen Z viewers looking for some feel-good romantic vibes on a stay-at-home date night.
2 thoughts on “‘Maid in Manhattan’ (2002): Peak J.Lo scores in feel-good mistaken identity farce”
A lot of fun, both fim and film comment. I understand Rafe Fiennes is insatiable; anyway that is what the adorable Francesca Annis has said in print. “I just can’t give him all the sex he wants.’
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Thanks Barry! Much appreciated. -Jason H.