Maid To Order

Director: Amy Olden Jones
Ally Sheedy, Beverly D'Angelo, Michael Onkean

With each new review, The Unknown Movies web site gets stronger and better known. Based on the way things have been progressing for some time now, it seems inevitable that fame and fortune will one day be on my lap. Certainly, being famous definitely has its privileges, so I am definitely not knocking that. But what I really am craving is the fortune side of what I will be getting. I have already started to plan what I will be doing when I get all of that lovely money money money. The first thing that I would do is to pay all of my bills - though come to think of it, I already manage to pay all of my bills in full each and every month, so that's not a pressing problem I have. Anyway, the next thing that I would do would be to deposit all that money into my bank, then subsequently talk to some financial planner at my bank as to the best and safest way to invest much of my wealth. This would be so that not only would I have a regular (and more than adequate) allowance to live though my middle-aged years, but also so that when I reach retirement age, I will have enough money to live on. Once that is done, I would take what is left over from my monetary gains and treat myself to various luxuries. I would like a new flat screen television, since the one that I currently watch unknown movies on is starting to wear down in some areas. I would also like to move out of my bachelor apartment suite and into a gigantic mansion, in part to have enough space to store my movie collection. But I would also like to get a new computer so that I can keep working on The Unknown Movies and get even more fame and (especially!) fortune.

Sometimes when I am daydreaming about my inevitable fortune to come, I think of other things that my wealth could buy. One thing that comes into my mind very often during these daydreams is to hire people to do a lot of the things I presently do. It sure would be nice to wake up every morning and have my breakfast waiting hot and ready on my dining room table. For that matter, having someone make my lunch and supper would be great as well. Other things I would like to hand over to someone else would be to keep my home clean, or have someone drive me all over my city since deep in my heart I know I would be a lousy driver if I had my own vehicle. But when I daydream thoughts concerning others doing my chores and daily tasks for me, more often than not I start to see the bad side of it. I know all too well that keeping things clean is an arduous task. At one previous place of employment, one of my tasks was to keep the floor clean, and it was sure frustrating to have to clean up after customers who spilled coffee and other things on the floor. Even though I didn't own the business I worked at, I consider whatever cleaning work I did as "mine". And seeing other people dirty up my hard work really gives me a lot of frustration. Another negative side to people hiring others to clean and do other work for them is the risk of the well-to-do getting the label of exploiting others. One of the tenants in my apartment building, who I know is struggling to make a living, has made it clear to myself and other tenants that she can be hired to clean their suites for a price per hour that's much lower than what the cleaning agencies in my city charge. The attractive price has had me tempted many times to hire her to clean my cluttered bachelor suite. But ultimately I haven't done so, mostly because I know in my gut people might think I would be taking advantage of a somewhat desperate woman.

So I have a lot of sympathy for people who would be considered hired help by the more fortunate people that hired them. Yes, I know that no one is forcing the less fortunate to work for the rich and powerful, and that if I had to choose between being a servant or having no job at Maid To Orderall, I would pick the former option. I just know that I feel fortunate enough to have a job that gives me a variety of things to do, not just cleaning floors. Sometimes I wonder, however, if I could move from having a fairly comfortable position in life to one where I would be responsible for the comfort and convenience of someone else, someone who was richer and more powerful than I was. The movie Maid To Order promised to depict that situation happening to its central character, albeit in a comic fashion, and I thought I might get some laughs as well as some tips if that undesirable situation were to happen to me. In the first part of the movie, we are introduced to the Montgomerys, a rich and powerful family headed by Charles (Tom Skerritt, Big Man On Campus). Charles has a daughter named Jessie (Sheedy, WarGames), and he is extremely unhappy with her because she is spoiled and selfish. When she is busted by the police for drunk driving, Charles reaches the breaking point. While she's waiting in jail to be bailed out, Charles wishes out loud that he never had his daughter. Charles' declaration reaches the ears of Stella Winston (D'Angelo, A Rat's Tale), who is no ordinary woman - she is the family's secret fairy godmother. Stella works her magic so that when Jessie gets out of jail and goes home, her father has no memory of her, and boots her out. Jessie in short notice finds herself homeless, without money, and unemployed. Stella pushes Jessie to get a job, and eventually Jessie finds herself hired as a maid for the Starkeys, Stan (Dick Shawn, The Producers) and Georgette (Valerie Perrine, Mr. Billion). Though Jessie at first finds the transition from spoiled brat to servant difficult, she does not know that the Starkeys and her fellow servants will eventually get her to start seeing things in a different light.

As you can see from that plot description, Maid To Order is in a way a unique kind of movie, that being it's a kind of a fairy tale, but one that is aimed at an adult audience. Certainly, the character of the fairy godmother goes a long way to making the movie an (adult) fairy tale, but there's also the fact that the central plot is a spin on Cinderella, though this time it's going from riches to rags instead of the other way around. (Also, the movie starts with onscreen text stating, "Once upon a time...") But if you have seen your share of comedies about spoiled people falling into hard times (like Trading Places), it is very likely that you'll be able to predict what will happen long before it happens. I illustrated this with the plot description in the previous paragraph, but there are also other predictable features such as with the character of the Starkeys' hunky chauffeur Nick (Ontkean, The Peace Killers). Yup, he becomes Jessie's love interest. But while the movie may to a large degree be predictable, it isn't insultingly so. For one thing, the movie finds the right way to develop from one plot turn to another. In the beginning of the movie, it quickly establishes Jessie's character as selfish and spoiled, and just as quickly gets her from riches to rags. The screenplay knows we don't need too much of a setup. Once Jessie finds herself in the unenviable position of a servant, the movie does slow down considerably, but again, that was the right decision. Quickly changing a selfish and spoiled woman to someone more palatable would not be realistic. It takes a while for Jessie to realize her past behavior was wrong, and more importantly we in the audience know she has to earn redemption though many good actions.

It also helps that not only the screenplay makes pretty much every character with some influence on the plot likable to some degree, but that the actors playing these characters find the right tone. The character of Jessie is, as I said before, selfish and spoiled at the start of the movie. But at the same time, you don't get a sense that she is totally corrupted. You always sense that this young woman deep down has a good soul, so I was hoping the best for her once she found herself in rags. Ally Sheedy's performance goes a long way towards her earning good will from the audience, especially in the second half of the movie when her character smartens up. The other servants in the Starkey household also show some real charm in their scenes. Nick the chauffeur takes his romancing of Jessie slowly and respectfully, which makes him very appealing. Just as agreeable are fellow servants Maria (Begonya Plaza, Delta Force 2) and Audrey (Marry Clayton, Wild Orchid II), the latter of who gets to belt out three nice song numbers. The only character of importance in Maid To Order that I didn't think quite worked was that of Stella the fairy godmother. It is not the fault of actress D'Angelo - when she is onscreen, she shows a lot of spunk and is clearing having some fun playing such a fantastic figure. The problem was that while you may think this fairy godmother would make regular appearance to guide Jessie a la It's A Wonderful Life, not only are her appearances not that great in number, they are all equally brief in length. It's kind of a waste of D'Angelo's considerable talents.

One other compensation for the misuse of D'Angelo that I haven't gotten into detail yet are actors Dick Shawn and Valerie Perrine, playing the very eccentric millionaire Starkeys. Their kooky behavior, from their outrageous clothing to their attitude towards their help, does generate some chuckles here and there. While I am speaking of chuckles, I feel I should point out one feature of Maid To Order that may surprise you. Although what I have written so far about the movie may make you think the movie is a comedy, it really isn't. Yes, there are some laughs here and there, from Jessie's initial struggles to clean the Starkey mansion to some one liners, my favorite being Jessie's comment about her post-secondary education. But the movie for a lot of the time doesn't make a great effort to get the audience to guffaw. Instead, director and co-writer Amy Holden Jones (The Slumber Party Massacre) seems more interested in building and maintaining a simply amiable feeling. But do you know what? That unexpected aim by Jones actually does work in the end. Yes, the movie may be to a large degree predictable, but the characters (and their actors) are all very likable, so I really cared for them. While I did guess that these characters would all reach a happy ending long before it happened, their charm made me keep watching so I could enjoy their eventual happiness with them. I'm not making out Maid To Order to be some sort of masterpiece - it is in the end cinematic fluff that doesn't have anything "big" about it (laughs or anything else) to be truly memorable for years after you watch it. But while you are watching it, it does put you in a very good mood and for a short time restores your faith in the good things that humanity is capable of. Sometimes simple fluff is more than enough.

(Posted December 20, 2020)

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See also: Cinderella, Odd Jobs, O'Hara's Wife