The Family Man Review

by Laura Clifford (lcliffor AT genuity DOT net)
November 30th, 2000


Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is the president of his own Wall St. investment firm and is on the verge of cementing a multi-billion dollar merger on Christmas Eve. When his intrigued secretary (Mary Beth Hurt, "Bringing Out the Dead") gives him a message from his college fiance of twenty years ago, he takes a 'guy poll' and decides to ignore it as 'water under the bridge.' One encounter with a convenience store robber (Don Cheadle, "Mission to Mars") and a night's sleep later, Jack awakens on Christmas morning to find his wife Kate (Tea Leoni, "Deep Impact") next to him and a young daughter and large dog piling onto his bed in "The Family Man."


Screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman take a little bit of "Me Myself I," a dash of "It's a Wonderful Life" (in reverse) and a helping of their own original twists for the holiday-set "The Family Man." While the film sounds like warmed over offerings, its sparkling cast and a few inventive riffs on an old outline make this a welcome holiday entertainment.
We already know Kate is Jack's old girlfriend, because the film begins with a flashback (which we know is a flashback by the PanAm backdrop) of Jack leaving a tearful Kate at the airport. They have a plan to get solid footing before marriage - him by interning at Barclay's Bank in London, her by going to law school back home - which she begs him to abandon because of her intuition. One scene later, we know her intuition proved correct.

Jack has disposable women, $2,500 suits, a Ferrari and confidence to spare. His first move after awakening in surburbia is to dash out in horror and take the family minivan back into the city. No one recognizes him, however, and that mysterious 'robber' returns in his Ferrari to tell him that his actions during the tension of the night before allowed for him to get a second look at life.

Jack returns to his new home to be met by his best friend and next door neighbor (Jeremy Piven, "Very Bad Things") telling him how lucky he is. Jack's aghast at the messy surburban life he now has complete with diapers, dog slobber, chores, a blue class wardrobe and job as a tire salesman for his father-in-law. Even though Jack knows no history of this life, only his daughter Annie notices his oddness, asking where her dad has gone. Kate accepts his cluelessness as part oddball humor, which they clearly have a history of, part midlife crisis.

The screenplay is interesting in that some things have progressed similarly (Jack is hit on by a sexy friend), others are changed (his nebbishy underling (Saul Rubinek, "The Contender") is now the more authoritative president of his old company). Things that seem radically different (Jack's new career) are given interesting explanations as the story progresses. Jack attempts to blend his new persona with his old one. The film's conclusion is not exactly what the audience might expect and presents new concepts to ponder.
The best thing about "The Family Man," however, is seeing Nicolas Cage finally give an engaging performance again. His return from the increasingly zombified performances he's been giving in one actioner after another is most welcome. Cage nails the complexities of a somewhat arrogant, assured man who also is, at heart, decent. His comic bafflement, sweetness with children and sexiness with woman showcase his romantic comedy chops better than anything he's done since "Moonstruck." Equally engaging is Tea Leoni, who simply has never been better. She's funny, strong, quick-witted and sexy and a dynamic foil for Cage. Support is solid all around.

The film was directed by Brett Ratner (whose 'a film by' credit is a bit pretentious for the young director of "Rush Hour"), showing an ability to cross genres after his hit actioner of two years back. The film's well-paced and gives a nice contrast between the different lifestyles (even if Jack is able to park directly in front of anywhere he wants to go in downtown Manhattan in both incarnations).

"The Family Man" is not only a sure-footed romance, but may become a minor holiday classic as well.


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