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"Monster-in-Law" an Unfortunate Comeback Flick for Fonda

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2005 5 May
  • COMMENTS
"Monster-in-Law" an Unfortunate Comeback Flick for Fonda

Release Date:  May 13, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (for sex references and language)
Genre:   Comedy/Romance
Run Time:   102 min.
Director:     Robert Luketic
Actors:   Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes, Adam Scott, Annie Parisse, Monet Mazur

Oh, dear.  I can understand Jane Fonda’s desire to return to the big screen, after a 15-year hiatus.  I can understand the desire to play a character actress.  I can even understand the need for publicity for her new book.  She has, after all, got a lot of ‘splaining to do.  But did she have to pick this movie for her big comeback?

Charlotte “Charlie” Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez) is a single gal living in a fabulous apartment behind the Santa Monica boardwalk.  Although Charlie has a design degree, she temps and walks dogs for a living, preferring to work on her designs in secret. Her best friends, Morgan (Annie Parisse), who owns a catering company, and Remy (Adam Scott), who is gay, are both pleased when Charlie tells them that she keeps bumping into Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan, TV’s “Alias”), a doctor who has recently relocated to L.A.  The Tarot cards say Kevin’s the one, so it’s not a surprise when, just two months later, Charlie moves into his upscale home. 

Kevin’s mother, Viola Fields (Fonda) is a renowned television talk show host, on par with Barbara Walters.  Right before losing her cool with a Britney Spears look-alike, on air, Viola is canned for a reporter half her age.  She retreats into rehab, to deal with her alcoholism.  For some reason, however, Kevin is completely naive about his mother’s problems, especially her undying devotion for him – despite the fact that Viola calls Kevin several dozen times a day.  In fact, Kevin is so out-to-lunch that he not only brings Charlie to his first meeting with his mother, the day after she gets out of rehab, but he also proposes to Charlie, right in front of her. 

Viola, who is already less-than-impressed with Charlie, ostensibly because Charlie has no career, turns histrionic.  She fantasizes about smashing Charlie’s face into a cake, then retreats to her room.  There, despite the obvious disdain of Ruby, her omnipresent personal assistant (Wanda Sykes), Viola engages in a Native American style ritual with smoke and a feather, apparently to ward off Charlie’s evil spirit.  She then takes to her bed.

Soon, however, Viola has risen from her proverbial ashes of horror, with the goal of sabotaging her son’s relationship.  Her methods?  Planning an upscale wedding and offering to pay for it, moving in with them, and keeping Charlie awake every night, while Kevin is conveniently at a week-long medical conference.  Oh!  Evil!  Then Remy discovers an investigative “file” on Charlie, while snooping in Viola’s closet, and the naïve young bride figures out the truth.  She decides to fight back.  Her tactics involve asking Viola to be maid of honor, then giving her an ugly dress to wear; slinging spaghetti sauce on Viola’s couture suit; and serving Viola tripe then knocking her out for the evening with potent sleeping pills.  Oh!  Even more evil!  On the morning of the wedding, the two are still battling it out when Kevin’s grandmother (Elaine Stritch), Viola’s former monster-in-law, arrives.

Fonda has stated in numerous interviews for the film – which just happens to coincide nicely, from a public relations standpoint, with the release of her autobiography, “My Life So Far” – that she took this role because she loved the role of Viola, and that one of the benefits of being an older actress is that you can finally play character parts.  Certainly, Viola is a character, and Fonda handles it with aplomb.  She’s an accomplished actress who knows exactly how to hold an audience’s attention, both onscreen and off.  Unfortunately, however, the script is so insipid that even Viola, who might have been a fun character to watch, comes off as melodramatic and unrealistic.  Sykes is funny, as always, but we don’t get nearly enough of her.  And is it me, but isn’t a sassy, African-American woman named Ruby who bows and scrapes to a white woman a racist cliché?

The plot of “Monster-in-Law” is nothing more than a female version of “Meet the Parents” or “Father of the Bride.”  And it had great potential, playing off a cliché that sadly, is more often true than not.  But instead of amusing antics, we get tired truisms.  I mean, how bad can it be that you lose sleep for a few days in a row?  And what bride doesn’t have someone (usually her own mother) trying to plan her wedding for her?  This is “revenge?”

In Lopez’s hands, Charlie is a sweet but bland young woman with lots of talent that she never puts to use – a point that is completely overlooked by the script.  There is no real reason for Viola to despise her so vehemently, however, even with a breakdown.  Charlie’s friendly, polite and clearly devoted to Kevin – but bo-ring.  Even more so, Vartan is as insipid as his character, who never quite figures out what is going on and smiles blandly throughout.  That there is no chemistry between him and Lopez only underscores the film’s ho-hum nature.

With its simple plot, colorless characters and mild antics, “Monster-in-Law” appears to be geared toward the ‘tweener audience.  Yet clearly, with its sexual situations and innuendo, it is not.  It’s as if the screenwriters simply couldn’t determine their audience – something hindered by Robert Luketic, whose minimal credits include the far more inspired “Legally Blonde” and the cheesy-but-winsome “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.” 

The film invites us to believe that we have nothing but wit and deception with which to defeat our enemy.  Actually, believers have been given a host of spiritual and emotional resources, both on Earth and in Heaven – which makes that a pretty sad message, indeed.  Go, if you must.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Character, who is apparently a recovering alcoholic, relapses many times and drinks, sometimes to excess; various comments about and scenes involving “anti-anxiety” medication, including abuse of same.
  • Language/Profanity:  About 25 obscenities, 4 references to “slut” and one f-word, which is cut off before completed, as well as about 20 profanities (mostly “Oh my God”).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  A dog mounts another dog; reference to a woman’s problems related to the fact that she is “not having sex;” gay character and several jokes/situations involving same, including comment about “gaydar;” unmarried couple meet and move in together after knowing each other for two months; woman suggests taking shower with her boyfriend; shot of woman’s crotch as she attempts to pull down tight dress; various medium shots of woman’s buxom cleavage; characters talk about getting “wet and naked” etc.
  • Violence:  Two imaginary sequences in which woman repeatedly slams face of another woman into a large cake, and one woman knocks another woman unconscious with frying pan; various kicks and slaps between women, as well as some physical humor and devious tricks.