Monster-in-Law (2005)
Directed by Robert Luketic

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * ½

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Charlie (Jennifer Lopez), a sexy, good-hearted, and artistically inclined temp, chances to meet Kevin (Michael Vartan), an affluent doctor, and the two quickly fall in love. When their relationship gets serious, Kevin decides to introduce Charlie to his mother, Viola (Jane Fonda), a former television talk show hostess who has recently been released from a mental institution, where she was hospitalized after having been fired from her program. Unfortunately, after Kevin proposes to Charlie in his mother's presence, Viola, who hates the idea of her son marrying a temp, resolves that she will separate the two by whatever means are necessary.

While Robert Luketic's Monster-in-Law is horribly formulaic, trite, and forgettable, it is also frequently funny.


The director has included little or nothing in his film that will surprise the viewer. The protagonist is a quirky, kind, charming individual with quirky, kind, charming friends. The man she loves is a financially successful nonentity. His mother is a conniving, vain, vicious creature who, nonetheless, loves her son and wants the best for him. Not only are these three little different from countless other characters that can be found in innumerable romantic comedies, but the forced story that arbitrarily unfolds around them is just as banal as they are. Charlie and Kevin's romance is, for instance, initially stalled by a series of awkward misunderstandings. Once these two have begun to date, however, it loses what little capacity it had to engage the viewer and becomes entirely uninteresting. Fortunately, the director soon forgets about their love affair and concentrates on how Viola, having met and immediately taken a somewhat inexplicable disliking to Charlie, behaves atrociously towards her and torments the innocent thing incessantly. Nevertheless, because he sees that Viola is actually good at heart, the viewer knows that, before the movie's end, she will realize how poorly she has behaved and will accept Charlie as her daughter-in-law. Regrettably, the way in which she does so is, at once, entirely foreseeable and so contrived and maudlin that it provides the movie with what is, almost certainly, its most painful scene. It truly is dreadful.

In spite of such potentially crippling flaws, Monster-in-Law can be entertaining. Viola's various tricks and machinations are often funny or affecting. At one point, for example, Luketic reveals how that woman tries to show Charlie that she does not belong to her future husband's world by inviting her to a party to which she has also invited various world leaders and dignitaries. Elsewhere, the old harridan feeds the heroine a foul meal and keeps her up all night by endlessly babbling so that she will be exhausted the next day, and, in other scenes, the director shows how Viola spies on Charlie, tries to upstage her, or endeavors to annoy her until she is exasperated. Happily, many of these incidents are filled with a delicious, mean-spirited sense of fun that does give them a genuine appeal. Moreover, Charlie's efforts to fight back with similar methods, as when she cooks a repulsive dinner for Viola, lets a pack of dogs destroy that woman's designer clothing, and provides her future mother-in-law with a hideous dress, are equally amusing. These latter sequences also allow the viewer the satisfaction of seeing the victimized protagonist inflicting injury on the person who had previously done harm to her.

Monster-in-Law is certainly not a good film. In fact, it is pretty bad, but it is, nonetheless, occasionally enjoyable to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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