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Monster-In-Law (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes, Adam Scott, Annie Parisse, Monet Mazur, Elaine Stritch, Will Arnett, Stephen Dunham, Randee Heller, Mark Moses, Tomiko Fraser, Wayne Nickel, Jenny Wade, Bruce Gray, Zach McLarty, Stephanie Turner and Harriet Harris.

Screenplay by Anya Kochoff.

Directed by Robert Luketic.

Distributed by New Line Pictures. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Jane Fonda came out of a self-imposed fifteen-year retirement for THIS???

At one point, she was one of the most acclaimed actresses in the world. She made some truly applauded films like Coming Home, They Shoot Horses Don't They, Julia, Klute, On Golden Pond, The China Syndrome and many, many others. Fonda may be best known for dramatic work, but she has done good work in comedy, too. While I'm not a huge fan of her two best known comedies – 9 to 5 and Barbarella, at least she was funny in them. However, if you ever doubt that she can make a truly great comedy, track down her 1977 film Fun With Dick and Jane co-starring George Segal or Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford.

Still, she hasn't worked since making Stanley and Iris with Robert DeNiro back in 1990. At first, the sabbatical was because of her marriage to media mogul Ted Turner. However, they have been divorced for years, and still Fonda never felt the need to dip her toe back into the pool.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that she finally took the leap for Monster-In-Law, which could not have possibly been any funnier as a script than it plays as a film. Wasn't her internal editor – or even more importantly her agent – tapping her on the shoulder and going, "uhh, Jane..." Granted, there aren't all that many good roles for an actress of her age (which is 67), but there had to have been something better than this. If there wasn't, perhaps her time would have been better spent traveling or doing charity work or sleeping late. Hell, doing laundry or looking for dust bunnies under her bed would have been time better spent.

Fonda is saddled with the role of Viola Fields, an aging news anchor who has been getting eased out of the game. It is supposed to be because she is getting old, but watching the film, you can't help but kind of agree with the people who are "retiring" her. Not only is she an obstinate, troublesome, drunk old diva, but she is completely insane. They give her one last chance to say goodbye on the air with dignity, however she attacks a Britney-Spears-alike star and gets committed. So much for dignity.

A few months later, Viola's son and pride and joy, Dr. Michael Fields (played by Michael Vartan as the dimmest doctor in film history) decides to bring his new lover to visit dear old mom. Charlene "Charlie" Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez) is a nice, sweet, charming professional dog-walker. Despite the fact that the sparks between his mama and his girlfriend seem a bit white hot, the goofball doctor asks his new girlfriend to be his wife in front of his mother. (These two have some mother-son issues that would keep Freud busy for years.) Viola is horrified – no son of hers, who she slaved to send to med school, is going to marry some poor girl with an ethnic accent and a conspicuous booty. (Viola is apparently not only insane, but she is also an elitist bigot.)

Soon, after dropping this bombshell, Michael conveniently has to run off, leaving his angry mother to try to destroy his gal. After a series of slapstick gags where Charlie tries to ignore the abuse Viola is sending her way, J. Lo starts to fight back. Charlie and Viola launch an all-out prank war between the women in Michael's life as they try to embarrass and mortify each other. This leads to sad scenes with Jane Fonda face down in a plate of tripe. It's all mean-spirited and unfunny. It also paints the screenplay into a corner – in the end there are only two possible climaxes, the two ladies have to either grudgingly come to like each other or kill each other. We all know which choice the filmmakers are going to make, although the audience is kind of rooting for the other idea.

Sadly, it's gotten to the point that we expect crap like this from Jennifer Lopez. However it is just criminal that they are dragging Jane Fonda down into the mud with her. If I didn't know better, I'd think this was some kind of payback orchestrated by a perturbed Vietnam vet for the whole "Hanoi Jane" thing. At about the same time as this film is coming out, Fonda released her autobiography. At a recent book signing, a strange man was restrained after he spat in her face, claiming it was a protest of her stance on the war. This film figuratively repeats this act. So much for dignity. (5/05)

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2005.

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