Maid in Manhattan is as careful a combination of satisfying ingredients as it is possible to package. Every aspect is a proven commodity designed to go to the heart of the core fantasies of a 13-year-old girl, and the end result is undeniably pleasing, if not particularly memorable. Marisa is an appealing heroine, beloved by her son and her co-workers, loyal, practical but optimistic. She dreams of being more but isn't anything as icky as ambitious or confident or focused. Chris, too, dreams of more but isn't craven, like his political advisor. Everything is at the fairy tale level, which means we never dwell on troubling realities like what, exactly, Chris hopes to achieve as a senator or how, exactly, Marisa gets a job after being fired for stealing. The best and worst you can say about the movie is that there are no surprises -- no bad ones, but no good ones, either.
Romantic comedies are so endlessly appealing both to those looking back on their own experience of falling in love and those looking forward to it that Hollywood keeps cranking them out. The elements seem so simple -- the plucky but vulnerable heroine, the wisecracking best friend, the handsome hero all but dumbstruck by the heroine's charm and beauty, the second act complication, and the happily-ever-after ending. Yet, like love itself, perhaps, it is a goal more often sought than obtained, and the key ingredient to make it work is impossible to define.