Saturday 28 January 2012

Movie Review: The Family Man (2000)

A modern Christmas fairytale, The Family Man is a fable about what matters in life. Presenting a stark contrast between material wealth and a loving family, there is no doubting where the film's heart resides, but two excellent central performances and a sharp script collaborate to elevate the simple story into a charming experience.

In a prologue set at the airport, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) and Kate Reynolds (Tea Leoni) are young and very much in love. He is about to board a plane to London for a one year apprenticeship to start his corporate life. Worried that he will never come back to her, she wants him to stay so that they can proceed to start their life together. He boards the plane, and their relationship ends.

Thirteen years later, Campbell is an extremely wealthy New York mergers and acquisitions executive, living the dream bachelor life in a sleek apartment. Campbell believes he has everything he needs in life, including a Ferrari and gorgeous bed partners, but otherwise his life is his work: he forces his team to work on Christmas Eve and calls a meeting on Christmas Day. An unexpected phone message from Kate and a surreal encounter with a burglar (Don Cheadle) trigger a timeshift in Jack's life: he is transported to a messy New Jersey home, and gets to experience the alternate destiny that he abandoned at the airport: married to Kate, he works as a tire salesman and they have two kids and a big dog, living the prototypical suburban life with a mortgage and a minivan. Jack needs to learn to survive in his new surroundings while recalibrating the value of his life's decisions.

Tea Leoni is the figurative heart of the film, and delivers one of her strongest screen performances. Just by being herself, Kate needs to unwittingly convince Jack that his life of New York riches amounts to little. Leoni nails the natural endeavour of the resourceful wife and mother, unaware of how attractive she is, sacrificing a career for her family and able to flood her environment with genuine affection. Jack Campbell is the model Nicolas Cage role, a man struggling with destiny's quirkiness and gradually realizing that he is a lot less in control than he ever anticipated.

Director Brett Ratner sprinkles just a bit of fairy dust on The Family Man, enough to provide the occasional reminder that Christmas is the time for life's magical contemplations. A bicycle's jingly bell, snow flakes at key moments, and serendipitous encounters flutter in and out of Jack's life as he gradually learns that his wealthy corporate life is, in fact, desolate. Ratner delivers a stunning punctuation mark when Jack returns to his apartment after living the lovingly cluttered New Jersey life: the same condominium that was stylish and expensive now just looks bleak and bare.

The Family Man mixes a warm heart with gentle humour. It may be a tad predictable, but it carries a lovingly tinged message worth reliving.

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