Charlotte 'Charlie' Honeywell (Jennifer Lopez) is a Los Angeles dog walker and office temp who has a hard time finding any good men to date. Her dreams seem to come true, however, when she meets Kevin (Michael Vartan), a young doctor and the perfect guy... until she meets his highly groomed, TV presenter legend of a mother Viola (Jane Fonda), who thinks no girl is good enough for Kevin, and especially not a temp! With her mother-in-law trying to sabotage the relationship by driving Charlie crazy, her dream of a perfect wedding and marriage seems doomed.
Review by Louise Keller:
Jane Fonda relishes every scrumptious second on screen, in a hilarious battle of wills as her larger-than-life future in-law clashes big time with Jennifer Lopez' bride to be. Even the flowers look as though they are going to wilt, as these two formidable characters meet head to head and prove to be well and truly a match for each other. It is hard to believe this is Fonda's first role in 15 years, and her fun-coated, theatrical, self-parodying portrayal is highly infectious.
The biting barbs and extravagant excesses are right up director Robert Luketic's Legally Blonde street; the script fires with its barrage of double entendres, one liners and lavishly staged visual gags. The pace is fast and the laughs keep coming. Fonda's Viola is the kind of woman that devours all shapely shadows that cross her path. When she is dumped as television host and replaced by a younger model that sweetly requests an autograph for her grandmother, we are set up beautifully. Viola subsequently proceeds to set upon her Britney Spears-like air-head guest, like a bloodhound after its prey. And how could we not rub our hands in glee, when her precious doctor son Kevin (Michael Vartan) brings his new girlfriend (J.Lo) home to meet mother, and thinks it is the perfect moment to get on bended knee to pop the question. 'Say no,' prays Viola's acidic, sassy black assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes, a standout), who is standing well out of firing range, waiting for the explosion.
Viola dishes up angst as though it was a gourmet meal, and eventually Charlie ladles it out as good as she gets. 'Is that expensive?' Charlie asks innocently, as she splashes a ladle-full of tomato sauce onto Viola's immaculate white Gucci suit. When Viola's initial plan to make 'the temp' feel out of her league in her extravagantly privileged surroundings with heads of states and the like, she changes tack - to make her future daughter-in-law's life so miserable, that she will not be able to bear it. This means moving in and dishing up night after night of traumatic insomnia.
Monster in Law belongs to the two women, although Fonda steals the show with the best lines, the showiest clothes and the mouth-watering moments. It might be about mother/son relationships, but the role of son Kevin is written (and played) as a pretty bland one, of a guy totally oblivious to the protracted claws of the cat-fight screeching around him. In the lead up to the climax, watch out for the marvellous Elaine Strich, as she makes her mark, as Viola's own Monster in Law. There are a few surprises, including the emotional climax. But it's not the climax that is the surprise, but how moved we actually become by it.
There's a proverb that says mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are a tempest and hail storm. In the case of Monster in Law, it's blowing a gale.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It takes good writing, excellent performances and smart direction to turn a shammy little trite idea into first class entertainment, and Monster In law is blessed with all that - plus outstanding cinematography and a fine soundtrack. Australian director Robert Luketic (who burst through the doors of Hollywood with Legally Blonde) melds this material into a credible comedy by never losing sight of the importance of character to underpin the laughs. He also keeps his cast as close to reality as possible under the circumstances, avoiding the twin plagues of overacting and overdoing.
Given the inherent conflict in the premise, it's inevitable that the film belongs entirely to Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez, although Wanda Sykes, as Viola's private secretary, Ruby, gets some terrific scenes. Michael Vartan's task as the handsome young doctor who falls for Charlie is to just be present - and no disrespect intended, he does it very well.
Fonda and Lopez revel in the antics of two women fighting for all they're worth, and Fonda shows every sign of relishing the feistiness of her role. Between them, the two actresses manage to winkle out every ounce of humour from a screenplay laced with the bitter sweet truths of the human condition.
It's because the issues are so serious that we can engage with and invest in these often painful yet funny events. Like the scene in which Viola threatens to hide crushed nuts in the gravy, knowing Charlie is wildly allergic to nuts. This is a potentially dangerous scene for Luketic because it threatens to undermine Viola's character, but it's staged so beautifully it works to great effect. And has a funny payoff, as well. Luketic also handles the film's emotional payload with great skill, ensuring that there is an emotional payload to deliver at just the right moment.
Monster In Law is a real hoot, and as Jane Fonda says, "Don't think about it...just bring your in laws ... or maybe not."
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ROBERT LUKETIC INTERVIEW
CAST: Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes, Adam Scott, Annie Parisse, Monet Mazur
PRODUCER: Chris Bender, Richard Brener, Julio Caro, Magnus Kim, J.C. Spink, Paula Weinstein
DIRECTOR: Robert Luketic
SCRIPT: Anya Kochoff
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Russell Carpenter
EDITOR: Scott Hill, Kevin Tent
MUSIC: David Newman, Rosey
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Missy Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 21, 2005
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