Sorry, after the new Avengers I had movie ennui and also “Friends” on Netflix happened. Now I’m back!

And I have to say: this movie is under-rated. As I’m sure you know, it’s a Cinderella story. Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hotel maid, Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) is a Senate hopeful. In a hilarious mix-up Chris thinks Marisa is actually staying in the hotel, whereas in fact the woman staying in the suite in question is Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), who is only slightly cartoonishly hoity-toity. The cast is rounded out by Chris’s constantly jazzed campaign guy (Stanley Tucci) and Marisa’s adorably politically-aware son Ty (Tyler Posey).

Sure, a lot of the class stuff is a little too pat. Chris goes to benefit dinners that are supposed to raise awareness about the projects, and zooms up to the Bronx in a limo to give a speech about it. Marisa, for her part, grew up in the projects and has some views about his “big-hearted” policies and his evident personal disconnect from them. Meanwhile, she has management ambitions and a deadbeat ex who continuously bails on plans with their son. Her colleagues are supportive (including Bob Hoskins[!!!] as the hotel butler, Lionel); her mother has realistic doubts.

Chris, of course, is one of these career politicians who is only ever cynical because the people around him force him to be so, and has a big dog and pre-speech jitters. He’s good with kids (especially Ty), has a checkered (but, you can be sure, decent) romantic past, and looks good in a dinner suit. He has no patience with social-climbing blondes, which is appealing if improbable. His accent is a shade careful, and hearing Ralph Fiennes say “taking a leak,” however scrupulous the dialect coach, is ridiculous.

There are a few moments that strain credulity, naturally. Ty never points out, for instance, that Chris routinely refers to Marisa as “Caroline,” even though Ty is in general preternaturally observant. Marisa’s stand-ins for mice and birds rally ’round very quickly–and not just with bows and sewing, but with vintage Harry Winston necklaces, for which they use a grade-schooler as courier. It is not, however, improbable that Marisa would be the only woman at a benefit at the Met wearing a pink dress.

But all in all, it’s appealing. Ralph Fiennes, for once, is not tragic or evil or set on fire or otherwise destroyed, which I think is nice. The movie is not unaware of social and economic disparities, but neither does it beat you up about them. The kid is cute but not cloying; Marisa’s friends on the hotel staff are slight caricatures but warm-hearted. Next time it comes on TV, you should give this a chance.

Stray notes:

  • John Hughes was partly responsible for the story?
  • Chris Marshall is a sympathetic Republican! This brings the number in films to…two (Bill Pullman in Independence Day is the other).
  • Yeah, I miss Jennifer Lopez in silly but charming movies. She was really good at them (and, yes, The Wedding Planner is also secretly great).

Director: Wayne Wang
Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 min.
Score: 3/5.

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