The Family Man Review

by Dustin Putman (FilmFan16 AT aol DOT com)
December 30th, 2000

The Family Man * * (out of * * * * )

Directed by Brett Ratner.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Jeremy Pivens, Don Cheadle, Saul Rubinek,
Harve Presnell, Makenzie Vega, Josef Sommer, Mary Beth Hurt, Lisa Thornhill,
Amber Valletta.
2000 - 126 minutes
Rated PG-13 (for profanity, sexual situations, and partial nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 23, 2000.

Sort of a modern-day rendition of 1946's holiday classic "It's a Wonderful
Life," "The Family Man" is a fantasy in which a wealthy Wall Street dealer is
given a chance to glimpse the wildly different way his life would have turned
out had he married his college sweetheart. Aside from the premise, the film
is not likely to become a perennial Christmas mainstay, due to its uneven
tone and flawed, obvious screenplay that backs itself into a corner in which
no possible conclusion could possibly be satisfying.

Opening in 1987, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is about to board a plane to
begin a one-year internship in London, much to the pleading of his beloved
girlfriend, Kate (Tea Leoni). If he gets on board, she instinctively tells
him, their strong relationship will not survive a year apart, and their lives
will go different directions. Fast forward to the present day, Jack thinks
that he has it all: a great job that is making him loads of money, a very
expensive Ferrari, a sleek apartment in a fashionable Manhattan skyrise, and
a sometimes-girlfriend (Amber Valletta) who he basically uses for sex.

Following a chance encounter with a street hustler (Don Cheadle), Jack
awakens on Christmas morning in the suburbs of New Jersey, with two young
children and a wife in Kate. Instead of a high-powered exec on Wall Street,
he works for the tire dealership named after his father-in-law (Harve
Presnell), and instead of a wardrobe consisting of an endless series of
suits, he owns mostly sweatshirts and sweatpants. Although something is very
different about the way Jack is acting to his new life, it is his precocious
5-year-old daughter (Makenzie Vega) who speaks up about it, believing that he
is an alien who has taken over her father's role. At first, Jack longs to
return to his old, true life, but the more time he spends with his newfound
family, the more he realizes what he has missed all these years, and how much
he truly loves the effervescent Kate.

Directed by Brett Ratner (1998's "Rush Hour"), "The Family Man" is an
occasionally sweet, but mostly trying experience that isn't written up to the
intelligence of its two main actors. Taking a well-worn story that has been
done before in a superior fashion ("A Christmas Carol" comes instantly to
mind), the film grows tiresome very quickly, due to the predictable nature in
which it plays itself out. A more lighthearted tone and a less-protracted
length (it runs over two hours) might have made the movie an enjoyable piece
of Christmastime fluff, but it overstays its welcome, hammering home a thin
message that could have been solved in a lot less time.

The main offender is its screenplay, written by David Diamond and David
Weissman, which lingers more upon the drama of the situation, rather than the
comedy. While this approach could have worked, the film just isn't very
smart. The rocky, but loving, relationship between Jack and Kate does not
play itself out naturally, as almost every one of their scenes plays itself
out in a particular fashion, with everything starting to look up until one of
them says something that angers the other, leading to an argument. For a
romance to work in the movies, there has to be genuine passion involved, and
this is particularly difficult to establish when they can't seem to get along
for longer than five minutes. A lot of their conversations deal with how much
they love each other, or how beautiful and spectacular one of them finds the
other, but with the evidence presented here, it is difficult to root for two
people who are interesting and likable as individuals, but annoying as a

Nicolas Cage (2000's "Gone in 60 Seconds") and Tea Leoni (1998's "Deep
Impact") are both very good actors, and they do give it their all, even while
their characters are merely going through the motions. Cage successfully
exhibits the longing his character of Jack begins to feel when he discovers
he doesn't, in fact, have it all, while Leoni is touching and strong-willed
as the amiable Kate, who doesn't understand why her husband has suddenly
grown so questionable about family life.

All of the supporting roles are wasted, and any subplots that result from
them go unfinished. Jeremy Piven (1998's "Very Bad Things"), as Jack's best
friend, is on hand to do nothing more than remind him of what a great catch
Katie is, while Lisa Thornhill (1997's "Meet Wally Sparks"), as a woman who
wants to have an affair with Jack, is a bright screen presence who is
woefully underutilized. Don Cheadle (2000's "Mission to Mars"), taking up
where Will Smith left off in "The Legend of Bagger Vance," is the
otherworldly person who allows Jack to see the things he has missed by
choosing the path he took thirteen years before. Only Makenzie Vega has good
screen time as Jack and Kate's daughter, and she is quite an impressive young
actress, adorable and talented without ever being cloying.

While the message that "The Family Man" wanted to make was apparent from the
first twenty minutes, the way the story was going to wrap up was more of a
mystery. Since most of the movie isn't actually real, but a look at what Jack
could have had, it almost seems like a waste, and no matter how things were
concluded, the ending would be severely problematic. Having seen the finale,
all I can say is that it isn't terrible, but also far too tidy for its own
good. That is the notable flaw of "The Family Man," in general. Instead of
genuinely playing itself out, it is simply too neat--too disingenuous--to be

    - Copyright 2000 by Dustin Putman ( <A HREF="">Reviews by Dustin Putman</A> ) ( <A HREF="Http://">NZone Magazine</A> )


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