Maid to Order means to crossbreed It’s a Wonderful Life with Down and Out in Beverly Hills. That’s a pretty strange combination, and it’s a strange, unsuccessful film, although it has a few sweet touches.
The gimmick is this: An irresponsible spoiled brat (Ally Sheedy) lands in jail for possession of cocaine. Her father (Tom Skerritt) idly wishes she’d never been born. Just as in It’s a Wonderful Life, the wish is made true, this time by a fairy godmother (Beverly D’Angelo) who informs the startled Sheedy that she is now persona non grata, with no past.
Sheedy’s family and friends don’t know her, so she must make her own living for the first time. The idea is abhorrent to her: “I didn’t spend six years in junior college to be a maid!” But she jumps at her first opportunity: to be a domestic for a couple of daffy Beverly Hills talent agents (enjoyable overplayed by Valerie Perrine and Dick Shawn). In other words – and this is the film’s “high concept” – she goes from Valley Girl to valet girl.
This setting brings the opportunity for much social satire, most of which focuses on the outrageously tacky outfits that Perrine and Shaw drape over themselves, and the nutty ’80s-babble they spew. And it’s an excuse for Sheedy to be a fish out of water, which is worth a couple of well-worn laughs.
A subplot about a cook (wonderfully warm performance by singer Merry Clayton), who used to be a famous singer, exists to bring the fairy tale to a neat conclusion. And the love interest, Michael Ontkean as the chauffeur, seems extraneous.
Amy Jones is the co-writer and director; her previous features were the satiric Slumber Party Massacre and the arty Love Letters. She brings a few gentle touches to this movie, mostly in terms of mood, but the contrived circumstances of the plot are too much of a strain.
Also, the film cheats on its supposed lesson. Sheedy is supposed to grow up and act responsibly before she can be restored to her old life. This, she accomplishes. But, unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, her past problems – the cocaine bust, for instance – are magically wiped away when she goes back to living her previous life. That’s facing up to your problems?
First published in The Herald, July 30, 1987
Always good to get a bit of stern moralizing in before the end. If that is the end – the review just leaves off there. Amy Holden Jones directed just one more feature film after this, the Halle Berry thriller The Rich Man’s Wife; she wrote Beethoven and Indecent Proposal.