film review – MONSTER-IN-LAW

news: film review – MONSTER-IN-LAW

A chick flick, with a sexy hunk, a bit of schmooch and J Lo with cake on her face – perfect!
A chick flick, with a sexy hunk, a bit of schmooch and J Lo with cake on her face – perfect!

The big fight – Lopez vs Fonda

THE GOSSIP, juicy banter and gawking that accompanied the pairing of Jolie and Pitt has almost been eclipsed by this duo of Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda. The parties, media frenzy and promotions will sell the tickets, the actual movie is an afterthought. It doesn’t matter that Monster-in-law is cheesy, predictable and insignificant – people will go and see it for the stars.

Fonda, making her big screen return after a 15-year hiatus, stars as Viola Fields, a past-her-prime TV talk show host who’s rubbed shoulders with foreign dignitaries and smarmy celebrities. When she’s fired and replaced by some ditzy bimbo, she breaks down, and the overprotective, neurotic mum looks for solace and comfort in her only outlet – her son. But doctor and prize catch Kevin (Vartan) is smitten with Charlie (J Lo) – so smitten that he proposes after a whirlwind courtship. Viola’s been searching for a scapegoat to unleash all her rage, and who better than the woman trying to steal away her only son. She hits the bottle and the pills and launches a dirty scheme to meddle and mess in the wedding plans, hoping Charlotte will bow out. The battle that erupts is sensationally over-the-top. Viola misses no opportunity to sneer at Charlie’s disproportional sized bottom, and feigns illness so she can move in with the lovebirds and further raise the stakes.

Midnight mental breakdowns, inviting Kevin’s ex to dinner and slipping nuts into the allergic Charlie’s gravy are just a few of the tactics to which she resorts. Charlie doesn’t stand around to get slapped down by the selfish old bag, and no J Lo character likes to be the butt of jokes. When she decides to fight back, Viola turns it up a notch, embracing her neuroticism.

Back and forth they go, slap for slap, prank for prank, while Kevin sits back, obliviously unaware that the women he loves are at each other’s throats. This movie is a no-holds-barred catfight between the world’s most psychotic mum and the pop star audiences love to hate.

Very much the female version of Ben Stiller’s misadventures in Meet the Parents, the romantic portion of the story is just formula filler. They don’t even bother trying to make Lopez look frumpy as the down-on-her-luck wannabe artist, who is so impoverished and lonely that she walks five dogs on the beach in search of affection. However, when a hunky piece of doctor beefcake Kevin jogs by, it’s love at first sight. This perfect man is the ultimate Prince Charming, and contrasts brilliantly with the ferocious monstrosity that is his mother.

Fonda infuses her disagreeable character with a zany, good-natured verve that makes Viola palatable even when she is behaving atrociously, which is much of the time. You do wonder why she decided to choose a comedy so one-dimensional for her return to the big screen though. Despite Fonda’s animated comic presence, Monster-in-law is a shrunken cowardly movie, in deep denial of its true nature. It runs away from the issues of class, ethnicity and age, with the only voice of semi-truth belonging to Wanda Sykes as Viola’s wisecracking, not too loyal assistant, Ruby.

Lopez is strong but Fonda is the main attraction. She carries the wrathful bitterness of a woman who was once the centre of attention, only to be disregarded by a culture that favours dumb blondes.

You could predict every bit of the story just from watching the trailer, but the Fonda-Lopez battle of personalities transcends the derivative material. Viola’s devilish glee in pushing Charlie away is sheer pleasure, as are the fantasy scenes in which Charlie dreams of exacting swift revenge on her adversary.