Film — Monster-In-Law (PG-13)

Monster-In-Law (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez embarrass themselves for fun and, let’s hope for their sake, profit in the somewhat icksome Monster-in-Law, a movie that seems to mix Oedipus Rex with The Bachelor.

Ah, there’s nothing like the hint of incest to make a man seem desirable. Seriously, if you find yourself in a battle over a man with his mother, lay down arms and run. There is a creep factor to such a fight that renders the whole relationship rather baggage-heavy.

Of course, if you are going to make a movie on the ick-filled relationship between an overbearing mother and her too-accommodating son, there is no better way to do it than with a former megawatt actress now a good two decades past her sexy-mature years. The same vibe of desperation and delusion seems to emit from both kinds of diva.

Not that aging actresses have to rely on their children for validation in their declining years. They can also write books and involve themselves in Important Causes. And trade on their one-time image by going the Robert De Niro road of goofballness.

This is more or less what Jane Fonda has clearly picked. She plays Viola, an interviewer and television personality who loses her career when the network decides she isn’t young enough to share the screen with the latest blond pop icon. After a stint in the crazy house, Viola returns to find her son Kevin (Michael Vartan), a handsome and successful doctor, deep in chemistry-free love with Charlie (Lopez), a multi-career-having girl whose main talent seems to be clothing her healthy-sized booty. Viola, a snob and a climber, is horrified. She decides to make it her life’s work to break the couple up, especially after they get engaged. She moves in with the happy couple, foists on Charlie a variety of horrible wedding ideas and even feeds the food-allergy-having Charlie a large helping of face-swelling nuts.

Serving as the sassy chorus to Viola’s increasing screwiness is Ruby (Wanda Sykes), attempting to be both the voice of reason and the voice of sarcasm as well as Viola’s one remaining tie to reality.

As the Viola/Charlie battle increases, Charlie catches on and plays a few dirty tricks of her own on Viola — all of this culminating in a degrading catfight. The entire process so completely cuts Kevin out of the picture that by the movie’s end it actually comes as a surprise that it’s not Viola and Charlie bound for the altar. Kevin’s role in his own wedding seems less than the ceremonial doves’.

Fonda vamps up her role as the mildly deranged, socially lost Viola but that doesn’t necessarily make it any more entertaining. There is an embarrassing quality to her performance that can make it painful to sit through. Next to the relatively subdued performance of all the other characters — Vartan phones it in, Lopez is indifferent —Fonda’s clowning seems impossibly large.

By turning Fonda into a caricature and wasting actual plot themes — retirement, class, race, the trials of early marriage — on cheap and humorless punchlines, Monster-In-Law manages to make us wish that Fonda, away from the big screen for 15 years, had stayed away at least another year.

- Amy Diaz

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