If you feel the need to laugh (and who doesn’t today?), you’ll get your chance with the 2005 romantic comedy, Monster-in-Law, available on Netflix. The movie belongs to Jane Fonda, who manages to turn that old trope—the overbearing mother-in-law for whom no girl will ever be good enough for her son—into a fast and funny romp. This Cinderella story follows Charlie, a girl who works a number of part-time gigs—dog walker, medical receptionist, waitress—while waiting to make her mark as a dress designer. Because Charlie is played by superstar Jennifer Lopez, it’s no surprise that she catches the eye of the prince in the form of Kevin, a surgeon who is handsome, nice, and also incredibly rich. In short order Charlie and Kevin fall madly in love, move in together, and decide to get married.
In the meantime Kevin’s mother, Viola, played by Jane Fonda in a succession of stunning outfits, has been knocked off her throne as a star TV interviewer by a younger woman and has a humorous nervous breakdown, if there is such a thing. When she finally returns to the world, she’s outraged to find, “My son-the-brilliant-surgeon is going to marry a temp!” Viola dreams up one improbable scheme after another to torture Charlie, ventures in which she’s ably abetted by her wise-cracking assistant, Ruby, played by the very funny Wanda Sykes. Suffice it to say, eventually the worm turns and Charlie gets her revenge.
But there’s still one more twist to come: Viola’s first of four mothers-in-law, Gertrude, played by the incomparable Elaine Stritch, crashes the wedding. She accuses Viola of killing her son, who, she says, expired from "terminal disappointment.” This charge leads Viola to have an epiphany and reconcile with Charlie, who assures her she’ll be included in every family event going forward. Viola looks thrilled at the prospect except for one little thing. “Could your children call me Aunt Viola instead of Grandma?” she asks. Great theater Monster-in-Law is not. Great escapism it is.
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