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My Life So Far
by Jane Fonda

"Allow me to tell you a few thing about my memoir... I decided to write it because I felt that if I could be brave enough and go deep enough, that my story would bee helpful to other people."

. "Monster-In-law"

Some people's primary interest -- if not fascination -- with this movie is in seeing the kind of vehicle Jane Fonda would accept as a returning role after a 15-year hiatus. This was also the question that drew me into the theatre for a movie I would no more volunteer to see than go shopping in Falouja. But, I'm back. I survived it.

It has its challenges, given that it's another bubbly outing for the unremarkable Jennifer Lopez gifts in a line of canny adjustments for limited demands ("The Wedding Planner," "Maid in Manhattan"). But, then, romantic comedies are often used as commercial exploitations of careers that have little potential in the context of anything serious, or are in need of some revitalizing. A few situational jokes, a life messup that can easily be fixed, no acting minefields... these are the dominion of digestible comedy-romance fare.

Providing the recipe necessaries are director Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde") and screenwriter Anya Kochoff in what seems like a slick first draft after a story conference with the two actresses' agents (to protect client interests) and with Cinderella in the room for the inspiration.

In this adjustment of that classic story into modern terms and standards, hardworking Charlotte Cantilini, (what, Lopez is now an Italian?) a babe who can't seem to remember the last time she slept with a guy, spots hunky Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) on the beach. We know he's hunky because he has facial stubble, so toney in close-ups these days.

One spotting leads to another and, then, another until this couple agrees that they're meant for each other... for life! Never mind that he's also a successful doctor, that his mother is super-rich Viola Fields (Jane Fonda), a headline TV personality who just got fired by the network, and that mom phones her boy Kevin 30 times a day, Charlie is in love.

Fonda, as Fields, is the 500 hundred pound gorilla in the frame. As a means to introduce a monkey wrench into the gears of true romance, we are treated to her dominatrix ways in a clash of personalities that will see the upper hand shift between them like a tide. These competitive dynamics will bring its share of satisfaction to an audience only too comfortable in the will-she, won't-she shallows of entertainment. I have no doubt, this following is huge and will more than justify its investment.

Giving her her due, Lopez is spunky, if not dynamic; pleasant, if not compelling; workmanlike, if not complex. Physically, she's enough of a babe to give credibility to plot requirements.

Martin Vartan, for all the centrality of his role, is lost in the credits. Saying, of course, that he's just a pretty face for the two ladies to toss around like a moldable plaything. Well, a guy's fate can be worse. More difficult to toss off into exploitation orbit is Wanda Sykes who amply holds her own as the earthy counterfoil for Fonda's inclination to control the world. Sykes, whom we come to love as our "voice," is the sharp needle for Fonda's balloon of self-importance, and she's a gem in a role that elevates the proceedings, providing a major share of the verbal amusements.

Fonda is smart to choose this kind of role as a reentry vehicle. In fact, I have to say I respect the judgement-- better in film roles than in her well publicized personal traumas. She gives herself a chance to do something that's too light to spark controversy beyond the entertainment ethos, while staking a claim to the screwball comedy territory of Elaine Stritch (who plays her step-mother), Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller. There's a touch of wisdom in the choice.

When you think of what the purposes of this film are, "total failure" are not words that should come to mind. Not everyone can take such a mindless misadventure but, to those who insist on standards of reality in a farcical comedy, I say "get over it or stay away."

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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