I believe that the Jennifer Lopez rom-com is a unique subset of the beloved movie genre, complete with its own tropes (usually, a woman who is disadvantaged or wronged in some way) and, of course, flawless J.Lo hair. I know because I spent many of my adolescent years feverishly watching them all so I could take notes on becoming Jennifer Lopez or, at least, one of the characters she plays on screen. It was not a foolproof plan.
Anyway, to this day, one of my all-time favorite J.Lo flicks is Monster-In-Law, which is probably due in large part to Jane Fonda (who plays Viola Fields) but also, to the many, iconic dress-jean combos Lopez flaunts throughout the movie.
In true rom-com fashion, Lopez plays Charlie, a young, single woman with a quirky job (she temps as a dog-walker, a receptionist at a doctor’s office, and a cocktail waitress) and a dormant passion (she’s a talented painter and fashion designer). The latter is meant to explain her own fashion choices, which mostly include floral, knee-length dresses paired with faded denim jeans.
No one ever questions this fashion choice although it feels dated, even for 2005 when the movie was released. The only time anyone even talks about Charlie’s outfits is when Fonda, playing the over-involved mother-in-law to-be, dismisses a salmon-colored, A-line dress (sans jeans) that Charlie wears to an afternoon gathering. Viola worries that Charlie is trying to upstage her in front of her son by “playing dress-up.” What Viola doesn’t know is that her son Kevin (played by Michael Vartan) first sees Charlie in one of her signature dress-jean combos and, despite this taking place at the beach, doesn’t flinch at all.
I’ve thought a lot about these outfits in the past 15 or so years because a) I’ve always found them visually jarring and b) I’m still wildly captivated by Charlie’s whimsy, made only more apparent by this very look. Charlie’s outfits throughout the movie all feel similar. They are casual and fun and light in a way that complements her charm and appeal as a simple, sun-kissed woman who is “more spiritual than religious.” Her words, not mine.
She’s meant to be the polar opposite of not only her surgeon fiancé Kevin but also his Type-A, former newscaster of a mother. To be honest, I hate the idea that these differences might be made more apparent by floral prints and flowing garments but the intent is still there. Did I mention she also temps as a yoga instructor? “I like to dabble in a lot of different things,” she explains to Kevin. “I mean, life’s too short to live the same day twice right?” At one point, she wears a silver necklace with a pendant in the shape of a question mark because, she says laughing, “I just don’t know.”
Charlie’s sense of style is nothing like Lopez’s real-life glamour. For one, the on-screen character definitely wears the same pair of jeans with each new dress — all with floral detailing — in the movie . The look is eccentric but nonthreatening, at least to everyone except Viola whose preferred dress code is more along the lines of black tie and “priceless couture.”
Beneath the dainty dresses, though, is a tougher woman than Viola is prepared for, which sort of explains the jeans. Whether this was a conscious choice in character development or a cinematic fluke, it works well. Charlie beats Viola at her own game (which is passive aggressive acts of annoyance?) as they both figure out how to coexist in Kevin’s and each other’s lives. The feud even comes to a slap fight at the wedding where, in an act of growth, Viola changes into a frilly, peach Matron of Honor gown. The fashion comes full circle.
Do I wish I could be a free-spirited dog-walker bold enough to wear spring dresses with jeans to the beach? Yes. Yes, I do. Even in the year 2019. And when I do, I expect to run into an attractive surgeon not once, not twice, but three times in one day because I will not rest until my life is an actual Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy.