After Years of Absence from the Big Screen, Monster-in-Law Proves to Be a Monstrosity for Fonda
After the publication of her memoirs and subsequent appearances on every television show except ‘“Alias,’” the third leg of Jane Fonda’s Comeback Tour is ready to roll into theatres with Monster-in-Law. When she first charged back into the public spotlight, the tone was somber ‘— meetings with war veterans, defensive primetime interviews, and numerous mea culpas for her behavior during the tumultuous Vietnam era. But now that the sore feelings have been addressed, Fonda wants to know: who’s ready to let their hair down and have a chuckle?
Unfortunately, audiences eager for her return to the silver screen (I’m assuming these people are out there somewhere) will find a tough pill to swallow in Monster-in-Law, a feature-length version of a ‘Take my wife ‘– please!’ joke that ineptly rehashes the blandest of sitcom fare. Anyone with a set of eyes has seen this plot about a million times.
The banality parade begins with the introduction of Charlie (Jennifer Lopez), a temp worker with an artist’s soul. It’s worth noting that, in a movie like this, ‘artist’ is a title given to anyone who owns a sketchpad, or who has ever visited a thrift store. Charlie, being a person who carpes the diem, doesn’t waste her life pining for Mr. Right. But as the movies have taught us, that’s precisely when Mr. Right walks by in slow motion.
Mr. Right is named Kevin, which is really the only thing you need to remember about his character (and even that isn’t very crucial). They fall in love quickly, and in the most saccharine way imaginable. Within minutes, they’re engaged.
Like clockwork, the titular monster comes roaring into the happy relationship, all cold, WASPy smiles and ulterior motives. Kevin’s mother is Viola Fields (Fonda), a Barbara Walters-style journalist, who has just returned from a three-month stint in a mental hospital following a nervous breakdown. When she finds that her only son is about to marry his social inferior, Viola puts on her mean face and starts wreaking havoc as only a completely hackneyed stereotype can. Like all Monster-in-Law’s characters, who are either Nice or Mean (distinctions handed out arbitrarily, for the most part), she is unencumbered by subtlety, which leads to some frankly embarrassing overacting. Scowling like a third-rate Cruella De Ville, she works hard to highlight every lame joke with a dramatic rim shot, but it all falls flat despite (or more likely because of) this immense effort.
In fairness, the film’s writing almost guarantees bad performances. Even Wanda Sykes (playing the requisite Sassy Personal Assistant) can’t make this trite, awful script into anything remotely funny. I hated pretty much every minute of Monster-in-Law, but I guess it’s innocuous enough. I always try to remind myself that every movie is not for everyone, and somebody out there will probably enjoy it. I can’t figure out who these people might be, though. Did they like Meet the Parents, but thought it needed less comedy? Whoever they are, I doubt they’ll consider Monster-in-Law anything other than a mildly pleasing diversion, and certainly not the madcap comedic romp it aims to be.
Glen Baity is a Greensboro movie junkie. To comment on this story, e-mail Glen Baity at firstname.lastname@example.org.