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Friday, Jan. 17, 2003 | link
Last night I saw a man walking down the street with a live chicken bobbing on his shoulder. He was also carrying a huge bouquet of helium balloons. And whistling at me.
Freakier still, last night I also saw Maid in Manhattan. And yes it sucked, of course it sucked. I totally knew that it would when I bought my ticket. I was well-primed for sucking.
The dialogue ranged from "huh whatever" to excruciating ("Come on, we're late, you can Google it when you get to school!"). JLo and the guy from Schindler's List had less than no chemistry, together they were about as sexy as rice cakes (versus JLo and George Clooney in Out of Site, who were as sexy as yellow layer cake with chocolate butter cream frosting ... moist yellow layer cake with chocolate butter cream frosting). Neither of them said anything witty or did anything interesting or even looked particularly cute. So why did they like each other? I don't know. Something about how she didn't let him get away with anything and how he looked at her like she was really there and, um, had nice hands?
Then there were all these extraneous subplots that never got resolved. Like the Harry Winston necklace that she borrows for her big night on the town (which lasts all of three seconds, after about six hours of hair cutting and nail polishing and dress trying on-ing). There's this whole scene where the friend lectures JLo's son about how if JLo loses the necklace, her life is over and she's going to prison and whatever. So we're all set up for the "glass slipper" scene, where she accidentally leaves the necklace behind in a rush not to turn into a giant pumpkin. But then ... nothing. One scene she's wearing it, the next she isn't. And where is the absentee father, who misses his son's big speech at the beginning of the movie? Doesn't he ever get his comeuppance? Or learn a valuable lesson about love? No. No!
It isn't as though the missing resolutions make room for more romance or character development or anything. The entire movie is completely two-dimensional. Here is the "you go girl-friend" who goads goody-goody JLo into naughtiness (think Joan Cusack in Working Girl). Here's the sleazy, resentful man-behind-the-Man (think George Costanza in Pretty Woman). If each character had been replaced by a color-coded square -- red for disappointed son, blue for serving-class mother who thinks her daughter is getting too big for her britches (and I'm not talking about JLo's ass, though I totally could because even though I think she's really nauseating now that all she does is make out with Ben and go Rolls shopping, JLo still has a super-fine snack ass), etc. -- I would have gotten almost as much out of the movie, i.e., I still would have loved it!
Because I did love Maid in Manhattan. I didn't care about the characters at all and the plot was virtually meaningless, but that's what other movies are for. The genius of Maid in Manhattan is that it doesn't even try. It knows that by using such amazingly cliched characters, we already know what's going to happen because we've seen it done better in a hundred other movies. We know JLo is sad because she's sitting on the subway while mournful background music plays. In Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta had to ride that train for ten minutes to get the same point across. JLo only has to stew there for a few seconds to provoke the emotions that John wrenched out of us the first time around. And why do the "Dad Comeuppance" scene when the audience already knows what's going to happen? Simply establishing a character as "Lame Dad" by having him call at the last minute to say he can't make it implies all the other scenes that come later.
Drumline is another one of this breed of pointillistic cinema. If you're at that movie at all, you're there to see some hot marching band action -- plot just gets in the way. So they serve up only the bare essential whys and hows and whos (a coach who really needs a win, the philosophy major who dreams of dancing, another absentee dad), knowing that we'll fill in the rest. Then they just step back and let the guys and gals in the crazy plumed hats take over. (It's a lesson that Coyote Ugly, which had way too much plot and not nearly enough water-soaked-leather line dancing on the bar, could have really benefited from, man.)
All the plot-trimming in Maid in Manhattan doesn't actually make room for any one specific, spectacular thing. It just clears space for even more schmaltzy button-pushing, such as the "kid messing up speech" scene and the "unjustly getting fired" scene. Together, through sheer volume I think, they chipped away at me until finally it all got to me and my weak eyes. I didn't full-out, Terms of Endearment-style bawl, but I did do a little dry-crying (the kind of shoulder-shudder crying that's almost indistinguishable from laughter, even to the cryee). And that along is worth the $9.50 price of admission. Hella!