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Monster-in-Law Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/13/2005

Every other critic’s review is going to the same thing…why did Jane Fonda decide to come out of retirement after 15 years for this sub par comedy?  The comedy in question is Monster-in-Law, and I have an answer for you…she probably needed the work.  Actually…I bet that’s not true.  I’m sure that she is living comfortably, but it has been four years since she divorced media mogul Ted Turner, and she probably just wanted to do the movie for fun.  While the movie itself wasn’t the best, Fonda’s performance was great.

Charlotte “Charlie” Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez) is a nice girl who has so many temp jobs…including dog-walking, working the front desk at a doctor’s office, and more…that she never has time to date anyone.  Her best friends Morgan (Annie Parisse) and Remy (Adam Scott), the latter of which is gay and constantly barges in with his spare key to her apartment just to hang out with her, are concerned about her love life.  One day, Charlie spots the handsome doctor Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) running on the beach while she was walking her dogs.  He notices her later at a coffee shop, and there is a spark between them.  After that, she runs into him yet again at another one of her jobs...serving food for Morgan’s catering service during a party that Kevin just so happens to be attending as well with his friend Kitt (Will Arnett.)  Unfortunately, Kevin’s ex-girlfriend, Fiona (Monet Mazur), is at the party too, and in order to sway Charlie off him (Fiona is still attracted to him), she tells Charlie that he’s gay, and that Kitt is his boyfriend.  A series of sitcom-like misunderstandings happen, and Charlie and Kevin fall in love.  That’s when the movie really starts.  Kevin wants Charlie to meet the only parent between the two (Charlie’s parents died when she was young; Kevin’s dad died when he was two years old), so he takes her to meet his single mom, Viola (Fonda.)  Viola was the veteran host of a TV talk show called “Public Intimacy” who had recently been let go when the show wanted a younger and prettier woman.  Viola’s replacement, Samantha Flynn (Jenny Wade), was a fan, but was considerably less intelligent than Viola.  Upset over being replaced, she attempts to do her last show with grace, but when she interviews a Britney Spears-like pop singer named Tanya Murphy (Stephanie Turner), who turns out to be dumber than a box of rocks, Viola flips out and attacks her.  Viola’s personal assistant, Ruby (Wanda Sykes), takes her to the Inverness Valley Clinic where, with the help of her therapist (Harriet Harris), Viola recovers and gets over being replaced.  Now that she has come home from the clinic, she faces being replaced again…for the attention of her own son to his new girlfriend.  When she meets Charlie for the first time, she is civil, but then Kevin proposes to Charlie in front of her, and she quietly flips out again (in another room, but in front of Ruby.)  Viola immediately schemes with Ruby to break them up in any way she can.  She tries overdoing it with the wedding plans, and when that doesn’t work, she fakes an anxiety attack.  After going to the hospital, her doctor, Dr. Paul Chamberlain (Stephen Dunham), advises that she take it easy and stay with a loved one.  Kevin suggests that Viola should stay with them (they have moved in together by this time), and Charlie begrudgingly agrees.  Kevin has to go to a medical conference, so Charlie is alone with Viola, which the older woman uses to her advantage in order to drive Charlie away.  Viola keeps Charlie awake all night by crying and bugging her, keeps the kitchen looking dirty, and even suggests buying a house down the street so she will be around all the time.   When Charlie finds out what Viola has been up to, she begins to scheme back, and it becomes a battle of wits between the two women.  When the war hits a head, a voice of reason comes around in the form of Gertrude (Elaine Stritch), Viola’s own pain-in-the-butt mother-in-law.

Like I said…Fonda was great in her over-the-top performance.  She had good chemistry with co-star Lopez.  I can’t say as much for the chemistry between Lopez and Vartan though.  I couldn’t believe that they were in love.  Isn’t a weird coincidence that the two are the exes of Hollywood couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner?

Aside from the three leads, a couple of people stood out in the movie.  Sykes was hilarious as Ruby, a woman who was loyal to Viola, but didn’t like going through with her crazy schemes.  Even though I wasn’t crazy about her Comedy Central reality show “Wanda Does It,” I’ve liked just about everything else she has done, especially her FOX sitcom “Wanda at Large.”  Stritch has a short but very memorable role as the mother-in-law who ends up looking worse than anything Viola could have ever done.  I will admit that I hadn’t noticed her much in her 50 plus years in the business, but ever since she won an Emmy for last year’s HBO special “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” (and her memorable acceptance speech that followed), I’ve kept an eye out for her.

The reason why I thought the movie wasn’t the best was that I had hoped it would be a little darker.  The movie was directed by Robert Luketic, the man who had helmed the hilarious first Legally Blonde movie and last year’s just okay comedy Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!  Anya Kochoff, who sold the script (her first script) for around $2 million, wrote it.  The story had so much potential, like 1989’s The War of the Roses, only between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.  In the end, it became predictable, but since it didn’t appear to be going any darker, the predictable end was a given, so I didn’t expect much.

I hope that Fonda doesn’t stay away for too long again, because I do enjoy seeing her in the movies.  Monster-in-Law may not be one of her best movies, but it certainly wasn’t one of her worst (in fact…her last movie, 1990’s Stanley & Iris, was worse.)  I’d also like to see Sykes lead a movie herself, like funnyman Anthony Anderson did recently with King’s Ransom and Paul Giamatti did with both American Splendor and the Oscar-nominated Sideways.  These funny actors deserve to be household names instead of just supporting characters.  Luketic had better step up himself, because he has yet to top Blonde, and I don’t know if Kochoff meant for her script to be so lightweight, but I hope that she pairs with a good director next time and brings to life her next set of words in an enjoyable way.  I would recommend seeing the movie for all potential mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, so that the daughter can get a sense of what she is committing to.  She might find out that her future mother-in-law is a real monster.


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