Friday, August 13, 2021

Monster-in-Law: A Review


This review is for the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Jane Fonda.

It's J-Lo versus J-Fo in Monster-in-Law, an admittedly dumb comedy that despite both itself and myself manages to entertain.

Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) has dreams of being a fashion designer but is happy as a temp for various businesses (dog walker, doctor's office). That is until she spots Dr. Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan), a hunky man who is equally enraptured by Charlie's beauty. A whirlwind romance begins, but there's a stumbling block.

That block is Viola Fields (Fonda), a broadcasting legend whose recent firing led to an on-air meltdown. Having just returned from a stint at a treatment center, Viola wants nothing more than to spend her free time with her son. Charlie, unfortunately, does not fit into the picture. 

Viola decides the best way to break up Kevin and Charlie's engagement is to be the future mother-in-law from Hell, one so awful that Charlie will flee to the mountains in terror. Despite warnings from her assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes), Viola has Charlie investigated, keeps her up at all hours, and generally torments her until Charlie gets wise to Viola's scheme. Now it's time for Charlie to get some payback, with both battling it out until the wedding day itself.

Monster-in-Law was Jane Fonda's comeback after walking away from films fifteen years earlier. I know many bash the film as so much tawdry trash, and I am not about to marshal a defense of Monster-in-Law as a great or even good film. However, I will vouch for Monster-in-Law being an entertaining film in that it is fully aware of its own idiocy. 

Everything from Anya Kochoff's script to Robert Luketic's directing pushed Monster-in-Law to be broad and dumb, but nothing in either suggested they were going for any wit. Instead, through the clichés and stereotypes they presented, it is clear that Monster-in-Law was not going for anything above B-level sitcom. I can't fault a film for succeeding in its low aims.

The fun of Monster-in-Law is in seeing these two divas battle it out in increasingly idiotic, even murderous ways. If one thinks about it, both Viola and Charlie attempted to kill the other. I think Fonda is a good enough and talented enough actress to know Viola Fields is a paper-thin character, forever at odds with reality. To her infinite credit she manages to make such things as referring to Charlie as "that dog-walking slut" sound funny. Monster-in-Law allows Fonda the chance to be totally unhinged, not caring that she is looking foolish whether lunging at a poor Britney Spears-type pop star on live television or frantically stuffing gravy with nuts to serve the unsuspecting nuts allergic Charlie. 

Lopez is more blank as Charlie, as if she's aware that the whole thing is stupid but unsure whether to play it straight or not. Fonda embraced the silliness of it all, going broad to the Nth degree. Lopez, conversely, didn't, so her halfhearted efforts to make Charlie realistic look more out-of-place in something so over-the-top as this film.

Both however were miles ahead of Vartan, who was there as a plot device to get these two together. He was there just to look pretty, which he did. However, there was no performance there, but whether this is because Vartan cannot actually act or Vartan can but found nothing to act with is unclear. 

The standout is Sykes as Ruby, forever able to insult Viola and rattle off a quip with the greatest of ease. She can tell off Viola by mentioning her stay at "a loony bin" or mentioning how Charlie has had fewer lovers in her lifetime than Viola had at Woodstock. Gleefully insulting even when attempting to comfort Viola (such as when she suggest Viola marry another gay guy to take her mind off her troubles), Sykes is able to cut loose with her broadsides at our broad Viola. She and Fonda make for a great double-act to where you'd want to see a film centered around them prior to the events of Monster-in-Law

How either tolerated the other is a mystery, but they work so well together it manages to elevate the material despite the illogic of sensible Ruby and haughty Viola finding any common ground. 

I admit to having a special fondness for Monster-in-Law, as terrible as it may be. Predictable, in many ways stupid, I still find Monster-in-Law a weirdly enjoyable romp. I firmly believe a film should be judged by what it is trying to do. With that mindset, Monster-in-Law succeeds at being a low-level sitcom made into a feature film. Maybe it's a guilty pleasure, but if you go into it with the knowledge that in many ways it's a bad film, you can find entertainment with Monster-in-Law.


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