The Family Man Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
December 22nd, 2000

"Family Man" Not a Wonderful Life
by Homer Yen
(c) 2000

In the romantic comedy, "Family Man," Jack (Nicolas Cage) is blessed with a second chance to see how his life would have turned out if he'd gone ahead and married his college sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni). He actually left Kate long ago, putting his career ahead of love. And now, he has become a master-of-his-own-universe, investment banker. But thanks to a chance encounter with a mysterious angel (Don Cheadle), he is offered a glimpse into this other life where he is her devoted husband, father of two, and the proud owner of a sorely-in-need-of-a-tune-up minivan.

With this setup, a few burning questions arise. Are there any lessons that Jack can learn about himself? Did he make the right choice leaving Kate all those years ago? Most importantly, will his outlook be changed in such a way that it will make him a better man? These are the answers that I had wanted to know because the premise of the film follows in the vein of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carole." But in this uninspired screenplay, neither path that Jack chooses really provides him with the fulfillment that he personally seeks. As a result, the movie doesn't provide the sentimental charge that it seems to want to deliver, and what we're left with is a lackluster story whose title should have been called: "Either Life is OK".

Needed to create the required impact is to see that Jack is actually better off with Kate. But is he? In real life, Jack is a high finance wizard who is the midst of orchestrating a gigantic merger. With his business savvy and charisma, his company as well as a slew of women revere him. Yes, he's a slave to his work and he even toils on Christmas Day. Yet, having a walk-in closet filled with $2000 suits and an exotic car doesn't seem all that bad. Meanwhile, his 'dream' existence puts him into the lifestyle of a middle-class, blue-collar salesman at a tire store where the highlights of his week are shopping at the Burlington Coat Factory, bowling with the guys, and eating funnel cakes.

This isn't really anybody's idea of a better life, is it? But, it is made all the more tolerable thanks to Kate, his adoring wife. Tea Leoni gives a robust performance in what may be the only bright spot to this film. She's affable and having the chance to get back together with her would be hard to pass up.
But this speaks to another shortcoming, which is the lack of chemistry between Cage and Leoni. They give good individual performances but we don't buy into their romance. Even as Jack develops his first-time sense of belonging and sharing, as a couple, they don't seem to connect. There's a lack of tenderness. It's missing the spark that is needed to emotionally draw in the audience.

The most appealing aspect is the film's lightheartedness, which mostly focuses on the fact that Jack WAS a person that had everything, but is now a blue-collar, child rearing, 'have-not.' Watching him report to work as a mag wheel salesman for Big Ed's Tires is a hoot. Yet, for the film to have risen above an otherwise humdrum romantic comedy, Jack's catharsis needed to be more remarkable. Is he truly better off as a family man? I'm still wondering.

Grade: C

S: 1 out of 3
L: 1 out of 3
V: 0 out of 3

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