Film Reviews

MONSTER-IN-LAW

By • May 13th, 2005 •

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New Line Cinema / A Benderspink/Spring Creek production
MPAA rating: PG-13 / Running time — 95 minutes

QUOTE: I sided with the mother.

I’ll get personal. My son tells all his girlfriends that his mother comes first. They hate me. Then they meet me. Regardless of how my son tries to reassure them, they always think I’m thinner then them and dress better. My judgment means a hell of a lot to my son. He would never introduce me to a girlfriend who was 20 years older than him or spent time in prison. (Okay, there is a much longer list, but two restrictions are quite enough to make my point.)

I raised him right, don’t you agree?

Doctor Kevin’s (bland Michael Vartan) mother, Viola Fields (Jane Fonda), is a Barbara Walters-like TV interviewer-celebrity. She knows princes, sultans, and politicians. She opens up her Santa Barbara mansion for the Dalai Lama when he is in town. She is an international icon who, when dumped by her network, promptly retreats into a spa sanitarium. Politicians and cardinals might know that Viola prefers caviar to dog poop, but Kevin is blissfully unaware of his mother’s lifestyle. Viola has likely paid for his medical school, but has made absolutely no impact on Kevin’s character.

Rich, educated girls are so stuck up and mean!

As if getting even with mom, he falls in love with Puerto Rican dog walker/receptionist/waitress Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) while Viola is pampering her firing. Just when Viola needs her son, and not her quick-witted assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes), Kevin announces he’s bringing home a very special girlfriend.

Now, this Charlie is a candidate for early sainthood. What mother would not find her a perfectly acceptable and delightful daughter-in-law that could, with a few wardrobe fittings, snuggle right in next to royalty at garden parties?

As soon as Viola (Jennifer can’t seem to pronounce the name. I swear I heard her clearly call Fonda “Violin” three times.) meets Charlie she hates her on sight. Not that Viola has much of a close relationship with Kevin. There is not a moment of intimacy and familiarity between them. Nor does Kevin know a thing about his mother. He and Charlie never read one press clipping on Viola.

Kevin doesn’t recognize his mother’s obsession for him. If he did, would he propose to Charlie right in front of Viola? How crass and thoughtless. And, like a woman wants her man’s mother right there when he asks her to marry him.

A sudden conference leaves Charlie alone with Viola. Instead of doing what I would have done – take the girl shopping and shower her with attention – Viola declares that war is on. Viola decides to show Kevin how unsuitable Charlie would be as a wife.

How do you massage a woman like Viola into liking you? Kevin doesn’t help Charlie. He never sits his mother down and explains why he is in love with Charlie. By the way, Charlie is indeed out of her element. So, Charlie decides to fight dirty and win Kevin.

Things between Viola and Charlie turn ugly but, nevertheless, culminate in a wedding! Then one of Viola’s former mothers-in-law, Gertrude (Elaine Stritch),turns up to put her in her rightful place as a phony.

The horrible truth? Viola is self-made.

Viola has to make certain non-negotiable terms I have already secured from my son: Frequent, daily phone calls and a child named after me (who else am I going to leave my good jewelry to?) Charlie is one tough cookie: She will only permit one phone call a day from Viola to her son and agrees to give one kid “Viola” as a middle name. Viola submits.

There is a lot of psychological material swept away by screenwriter Anya Kochoff. Kochoff either did not have the insight to mine the gold trapped here or director Robert Luketic skipped over intelligently exploring the character’s deep-rooted motivations. Therefore, Kevin is merely a hapless boob (and Vartan is marooned as a sexless co-star). Kevin has no backbone. Kevin does not appreciate Viola, who is presented here as an alcoholic, lonely has-been without friends.

Fonda chews the scenery and is obviously enjoying herself. This is the only way to make movies like this. She prances, pounces, and oozes exaggerated mature sexuality. She wears big hats and skirts with crinolines. She looks fabulous. Lopez wants to be loved by the audience. She is still not interested in acting.


Cast:
Charlie: Jennifer Lopez
Viola Fields: Jane Fonda
Kevin: Michael Vartan
Ruby: Wanda Sykes
Remy: Adam Scott
Fiona: Monet Mazur
Morgan: Annie Parisse
Gertrude: Elaine Stritch

Credits:
Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Anya Kochoff
Producers: Chris Bender, JC Spink, Paula Weinstein
Executive producers: Michael Flynn, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener
Director of photography: Russell Carpenter
Production designer: Missy Stewart
Music: David Newman
Costumes: Kym Barrett
Editors: Scott Hill, Kevin Tent

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