© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes, Adam Scott, Annie Parisse, Monet Mazur, Elaine Stritch, Will Arnett, Stephen Dunham
Director: Robert Luketic
Writer: Anya Kochoff
Distributor: New Line
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual references
Running time: 102 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total Score – 6.2 out of 10
The biggest draw of MONSTER-IN-LAW is, of course, Jane Fonda. After 15 years, Fonda returns to the silver screen with not a big dramatic role, but a big comedic role. It’s a great strategic move. It reminds us she’s still one of our best actresses. It also reminds us how funny she could be.
Charlotte/Charlie (Lopez) is a free-spirited, fun-loving “temp” who believes in cosmic karma and destiny, but not plans. Then one day she meets her destiny: handsome, successful, kind, loving Doctor Kevin Fields (Vartan). Can he be more perfect? And it happens that she is the perfect woman for him. Meanwhile, Viola (Fonda), Kevin’s mother and legendary Barbara Walter-esque anchor, is having a nervous breakdown after she’s replaced by a hot, young thing. After spending a few months in rehab, Viola returns home, wanting to spend more time with the only family she has: Kevin. The only problem is, her son now has a new love in his life.
When Kevin takes Charlie to meet Viola, the two women seem to like each other. That is until Kevin proposes to Charlie right in front of his mother. Convinced that Charlie is not good enough for her son, Viola sets out to sabotage the relationship any way she can. Soon, Charlie figures out what’s going on, and the war begins.
Fonda (STANLEY & IRIS) is in fine form. After all these years, she’s visibly older, but just as strong and charismatic on screen. She looks great, actually. And her comic timing is perfect as the controlling and psychotic mother. She lights up every frame. Lopez (SHALL WE DANCE) is unremarkable as the sweet girl who is cornered and forced to strike back. I’m never convinced about her character, but I’m not sure if it’s her fault or the script’s. Sykes (POOTIE TANG) is funny as Viola’s assistant, but she has nothing to do. Her character should be the counterpoint of Viola, but Sykes isn’t allowed to do more than deliver some one-liners. Vartan (TV’s ALIAS) has the tough job of playing the straight, thus boring, “perfect” guy. As the man stuck between his mother and fiancé, he has the potential of creating one of the film’s most complex characters. Instead, his character is as bland as a wine-in-a-box (a reference in the film).
The supporting cast does a serviceable job. Scott (THE AVIATOR) is effective as Charlie’s best friend. At least he is not stereotypically gay as are most “gay best friends” in movies. Parisse (NATIONAL TREASURE) is hardly noticeable as Charlie’s another best friend Morgan. Her talent is totally wasted. Mazur (STONED) squeezes the most out of her villainous but brief role as Fiona, Kevin’s ex-girlfriend and Viola’s accomplice. Broadway legend Stritch (AUTUMN IN NEW YORK) has a delicious cameo as Viola’s own monster-in-law.
The script by first-time screenwriter Kochoff does feel green. Structurally, the story could have been much better without the straight-line plotting. There is almost no suspense – we can predict every turn and how the film is going to end. Also, it takes over 15 minutes for the film to kick off. There’s really no reason to dwell on how Charlie and Kevin meet and fall in love – it’s all setup. The story is really about Viola and Charlie. The film is boring and irrelevant until Fonda first appears.
Director Luketic (WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON) does a straight-forward job, as well. The pacing is just about right. The cinematography is cute and lush – but aren’t we sick and tired of all that wealth and poshness? It’s neither exciting nor terrible, just unexceptional. Very Hollywood – which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. He does succeed in getting the most out of Fonda’s scenes, many of which are rather delicious. She is one monster-in-law with whom we might enjoy getting acquainted.