Movie Review: Keeping dysfunction in The Family
In 1999, Harold Ramis directed a well-known mafia comedy starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal called Analyze This. De Niro played a mob boss who forced a therapist into helping him overcome emotions that were getting in the way of his business. While not the most spectacular comedy, Analyze This was entertaining, working in some clever writing and wittily satirizing the gangster genre and the glamorized style of the times.
Now, fourteen years later, Luc Besson attempts a similar kind of f
ilm with The Family. Seeing as Besson is most known for his action and crime films such as The Fifth Element and Léon, or for his absolutely horrendous work in the Arthur and the Invisibles film series, it seemed highly ambitious for him to take on a comedic-mafia film, even with a great cast. And people were right to doubt him.
In The Family, De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a long-time mob boss whose family has been moved around by witness protection for years, finally ending up in Normandy. Under the alias of “the Blakes,” he and his family try their best to fit in, only to discover that their upbringing and their past won’t make it easy for them.
The film moves slowly and fails to follow a cohesive series of events (did you come into a mafia film to learn about an old man having trouble with his sink?), and is ridiculously contrived at the end, especially the subplot involving the mafia attempting to track the Manzonis down.
While De Niro certainly tries, only Michelle Pfeiffer, playing Giovanni’s wife, can be commended for her performance in the film. The children, played by Dianna Agron and John D’Leo, are one-dimensional, monotone excuses for physical comedy, especially Agron. Had her entire character and pointless romantic subplot been written out of the film, nothing would have been lost, to say the least.
The film’s worst offense, though, is due to the fact that the story simply doesn’t work as a comedy. Besson doesn’t seem to understand what makes the genre work, or how to string along a comedic plot. For example, when characters maul and nearly kill the quasi-offensively stereotypical French people and face few consequences for it, the audience is left confused and questioning the point of the film. Yes, it’s a mafia movie, so random violence is typical, but in the case of The Family, it adds nothing to the plot. This isn’t Casino, it’s just foolish.
The film did have one successful joke, however, which occurs when Giovanni is watching GoodFellas and creates some chuckle-worthy bit of meta-humor. Other than that, the film is more depressing than anything else. After all, you see many actors you love, like Tommy Lee Jones who plays an FBI Agent keeping an eye on the family, and you have high expectations that something notable and exciting might happen, but are ultimately disappointed when the film ends with little resolution and poor acting along the way.
Even with its few moments of charm, The Family ends up being a poorly-written script with an out-of-place soundtrack and shallow characters. Probably the film’s biggest fault is that Besson seems to have lost sight of what genre his film was supposed to be, creating a random and film that leaves the audience confused and disappointed.