Worth A Look: 23.53%
Just Average: 33.33%
Pretty Crappy: 15.69%
7 reviews, 60 user ratings
|Family Man, The
by Erik Childress
Weren’t the eighties great? I’m not referring to the music or the movies or the most recent fashion trends we would like to forget. I’m talking about the money. Remember how the eighties was referred to as the “me” decade. Me. Me. Me. It’s all about me and my money and fancy cars, etc…etc… But were those people happy? That’s the classic question about people with money, usually asked by people who don’t have a lot. And I don’t mean that as an insult as my personal bank account only has one zero. But I don’t have to make such slurs because The Family Man does it for us, a film that is truly an insult to both the upper…and middle classes.Opening scene shows the emotional airport confrontation that will become the center of the “what if?” universe of Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage). He’s about to board a plane for London that will jumpstart his business career. His college sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni), doesn’t want him to leave her for that whole year that will likely benefit the both of them. She gives him “what if”, he thinks about it and then gets on the plane leaving a teary-eyed Kate behind.
"Both Paths Take A Beating In 'Family Man'"
Flash forward many years later when Jack now owns part of a large company. A huge deal, manufactured by Jack, is about to go down, making him even more money and more respected. But is he happy? Why wouldn’t he be? He’s got a great apartment, a Ferrari, a river of clothes to wade through and beautiful women stopping by unannounced to share his bed. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, that Kate person is nowhere to be found. But she does leave him a message with his secretary on Christmas Eve, after no contact between the two of them, apparently since that day at the airport.
Jack doesn’t call her back and on a trip for some Egg Nog ends up doing a good deed and thwarting a robbery attempt. During a brief getting-to-know-you session with the thief (Don Cheadle), Jack tells the thief he has everything he wants. After which, the hip-hop version of Roma Downey tells him he’s brought this on himself, it begins snowing and he wakes up in suburbia with Kate and a pair of kids. But this is more of a virtual reality-type “glimpse” of what Jack’s life would have been like at this exact time rather than Clarence’s tour for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Like most fantasy-based films of this type, the altered reality or “the road less traveled”, is the path that should have been chosen. What’s so wonderful about Jack’s suburban life is a mystery. To both him and the audience because the script by David Diamond & David Weissman never clues either of us in. Even worse, it makes the point of demeaning the middle class at every turn.
Take the party that Jack’s miserable to be at and begins doubling up on those drinks early. It’s a friendly party with the neighbors talking about their lives in bad sweaters that is played for mostly comic effect with the guests being the brunt of the joke. Or how about that bowling league, where Jack, now losing those bowling skills he obviously acquired in his other life, actually says to himself, “You are better than this sport.” Setting myself apart from the bowler than I am for a moment, why do Diamond & Weissman take every opportunity in the book to demonize the very lifestyle they want their main character to eventually embrace?
Plus, since Jack only has the memories of his actual life, its up to him to figure out what’s to like about this dual life. But he ain’t going to discover the meaning of this life without a fight, managing to complain to Kate no less than four times that “this ain’t my life, I don’t like my life, this life is no good, etc…etc…” Kate must be a wonderful woman, because she never seems to get tired of hearing this and forgives him every single time. This truly is an altered reality, because all the women I know would take just one of those complaints as a personal insult and never look back.
So then after all the bad parties and disappointments in his life, we’re supposed to accept that playing with his kid in the snow has un-Grinched him? And don’t sell me on that cake flirtation scene either. Because after a wonderful early moment telling Kate how beautiful she is, he’s all willing to take advantage of a guilt-free affair with the hot-to-trot neighbor.
Plus, Jack isn’t even portrayed as a Grinch in the first place. He’s not a soulless corporate raider that treats people like proverbial commodities. This guy is loving life, singing opera bombastically throughout his apartment and elevator and making money by the truckloads. So what’s his worst crime? That he’s lonely? If he is and that’s his worst trait, it never comes off in the script. Then again, so many things are conveniently left out or remain questionable to the likability of certain characters.
It would have been nice to have a scene or two explaining why he never looked Kate back up after returning from London, but that would be too much to ask of a screenplay of this anti-caliber. It’s also not wise (or acceptable) to make Kate such a selfish woman. Not only at the airport, but even when Jack tries to merge the two worlds with a “cake-and-eat” mentality, Kate shoots it down. Why? Because money is obviously evil and must be destroyed. So much for support being a two-way street.
For a film that’s supposed to leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling upon leaving the theater, I was left a profound sense of anger. When did being honest, putting yourself through school, and working hard for a good career turn you into the anti-Christ? Is it any less noble than sacrificing all your dreams so your girlfriend won’t be lonely? Less noble than supporting a family at a thankless job surrounded by approving but unglamorous friends? Both sides of the issue are cloudy because the screenwriters seem to hold some unclarified contempt for each of them.
It then begs the question if Don Cheadle’s incarnation is an angel or the devil? What do you call someone who yanks you from a successful life, makes you feel guilty for the choices you have made and then yanks you away once again just as you start to become comfortable with you new life? Perhaps, like Lucifer, he was the angel thrown out of Cage’s City of Angels and now its payback time.
Just about the only thing holding up the memory of Frank Capra are the likable performances by Cage and Leoni. Cage is Cage and he’s either flipping out or looking into someone’s soul like a puppy dog and here he gets to do both and both well and Leoni isn’t nearly as stiff or uncomfortable as she looked in Deep Impact and Bad Boys. Only other honorable mention goes to the great Jeremy Piven, who is worthy of smiles and support the minute he enters the frame. But any film that gives him third billing and then drops him after the first hour clearly doesn’t know what its doing.
Robert Frost in his poem “The Road Not Taken” talks about a man coming along two paths and knowing he cannot travel both. One was worn down and the other, the path he eventually takes, grassy and beautiful. Jack comments early to his secretary about taking “the road less traveled,” but The Family Man had a hard time convincing me which path was grassy.Just a few weeks ago, a film called Bounce came out. It starred Ben Affleck as a free-wheeling single guy who through unusual circumstances comes to realize how he can love a woman with two kids and want to become a part of her family. More than I can say about The Family Man which seems set in its way to tell the audience what we should want in this society instead of being about real people and the choices they make to get what they want. Can’t there be nobility in both paths or is that just too greedy? In the 80s, greed was good. I wasn’t old enough to see “Wall Street” when it first came out, but I had seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and believe me when I say, this isn’t it.
(Note: Is it a sly in-joke or research-challenged to play Wicked Game by Chris Isaak during a romantic scene - one of the themes in Cage’s and David Lynch’s Wild At Heart?)
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originally posted: 12/10/00 17:06:36