The Family Man


Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by:David Diamond, David Weissman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Saul Rubinek
Released: January 25, 2001
Grade: B-

I'm tiring very quickly of Nicolas Cage's usual shtick.  He's churning out more movies than Matt Damon and Ben Affleck combined (and that's saying something).  I made a deliberate effort not to see The Family Man but on "friendly" advice, found myself in a darkened cinema on a Monday night.  I had other choices - I could have played tennis, I could have studied, or I could have even sat down and watched the two hour Friends marathon followed by other "quality" programming such as Jack & Jill.

Tell me if you've heard this one before.  Cage plays Jack Campbell, a millionaire working on Wall Street and ready to close another big deal.  He has a great car, great apartment, great job - he has everything he always thought he wanted.  Then out of the blue on Christmas Eve, Jack gets message from his secretary that Kate Reynolds (Leoni) phoned while he was out.  The two nearly married 13 years ago but their jobs kept them distanced and Jack decided to break things off.

Should he call her again after all this time?  His boss doesn't seem to think so - past relationships and like past tax returns, you hang on to them for three years and then get rid of them.  His secretary presents the opposite point of view - surely there must be a reason why she'd call so suddenly and unexpectedly?

Jack decides against calling and on his way home meets an interesting guy named Cash (Cheadle).  Jack thinks he has it all and there's nothing else he needs but Cash says he'll live to regret that comment.  Sure enough, when he awakes on Christmas Day, Jack finds he's not in the same bed and he's not even in the same house.  He is living the life he would have lived if he had married Kate 13 years ago.

Such films are becoming commonplace (Sliding Doors, Me Myself I) but one can see the inspiration for The Family Man coming from the brilliant 1939 classic, It's A Wonderful Life.  The fact that the film is centred on Christmas Eve is a dead giveaway. 

I know these films are make-believe fun but it’s just too much of a stretch to enjoy.  We go through the same old routine.  Jack wakes up and goes through the whole "I can't believe it" dramas.  Then, he fumbles his way through the next half-hour somehow managing to make his way through life despite the fact he knows nothing about it.  Finally, he comes to the realisation that this life is better before returning to his own world as a changed individual.  Just why are we being force-fed simplified stories with few surprises?  The whole "rich guy rediscovers the importance of life" movie is very, very tired.

Unlike past disappointments, Cage delivers a strong performance but Tea Leoni is the standout.  She is a fine actress but has been missing from the big screen for some time.  Since 1996's great sleeper, Flirting With Disaster, she has appeared in just one film - Deep Impact.

Director Brett Ratner (Money Talks, Rush Hour) also showed skill in helping rescue the screenplay with favourable direction.  The film is constantly moving and whilst you always know where it's heading, he tries to keep it interesting.  I was also struck by the creative camera angles and it came as no surprise to see dual Academy Award nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti (The Insider, L.A. Confidential) behind the lens.

The cast and crew have saved The Family Man from following many recent "what if" films into oblivion.  We always ask ourselves just what would happen if we did this, or this, or even this.  I wonder what would have happened if I didn't watch The Family Man and instead stayed home and watched Jack & Jill.  In hindsight, Jack & Jill may have been more interesting.  But who cares?  My point exactly.