Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Family

Get out your tennis rackets and explosives, we're reviewing The Family!

The Manzoni family, including father Giovanni (Robert De Niro), mother Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and son Warren (John D'Leo), is in the witness protection program and relocating to Normandy, France. Can they integrate into their new lives without letting old habits and old enemies creep back in?

I'm really surprised this didn't get more advertising than it did. I saw a preview for it a few months ago, and hardly any TV ads. I hope people see it because it's a really great film! It has a great cast and it's written and directed by Luc Besson who did The Fifth Element and Leon the Professional

This could have been a really bland, cliché movie about wise-guy characters bumbling around, trying to fit into normal life, with over-narrated exposition, poorly designed female characters, and easy, lame jokes. The Manzoni family could have very well been driving from that movie at the start of this one, as it's very clear this isn't their first time in witness protection, and not their first time relocating to a new home quickly. It almost feels like the sequel to a first movie we never got, and I'm glad we didn't get it because it would have been boring. They throw us right into the action without explaining what's going on.

The Manzoni's have been through this routine before. They know how things operate, and they have their own way of dealing with things. The easiest way to see this is with the children, Warren and Belle, who go into school together agreeing to do recon and meet up later to de-brief. The movie could have had kids bickering at each other with some stupid sibling rivalry, but since they've been down this road so many times, the kids have established a solid alliance instead. When they part, they give a cute little high-five. They could have done so many lame jokes with the son's first day of school or the daughter making new friends, but thankfully, they go straight into showing how Warren is a professional hustler, and Belle is a borderline (though sometimes justified) maniac.

Oh! Can we talk about the female characters? Because they're pretty great! I can't quite remember if the movie passes the Bechdel test, but even so, the girls are all pretty amazing and complex characters. I love Belle, mostly because she beats the living shit out of a guy who tries to get fresh with her around his guy friends, but also because she's an interesting teenage character. Sure, she's fine with slugging a girl in order to use her cellphone, but she still fantasizes about finding her true love. Maggie has a short temper, too, and is not above burning a place to the ground, but struggles daily with trying to be a good person and frequent church-goer. They do have mother- daughter conversations, but I think my favorite interaction is between Belle and Giovanni, when Giovanni laments not doing right by his kids and she tells him how much she loves him and how great a father he is. It's refreshing to see a movie where the family is smart enough to stick to each other and just love one another. Instead of, y’know, being a bunch of assholes.

And it's funny! Sure, there are lots of scenes of the wise-guy family trying to blend in, not looking like bad guys but still doing bad guy things, but it also has a great script, and it doesn't hurt that it's delivered by a fantastic cast, including De Niro, Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones. It's also really well shot, with some great editing and cinematography. The story is a little paint-by-numbers; you have a good idea of when everything is great, and when everything goes to crap, and when the finale starts, but it's such a fun ride that you won't care too much. It also has a pretty good soundtrack, including the likes of Gorillas, which is an instant boost in points. Some of the plot of the movie relies heavily on coincidence, which some may find annoying – but others will find cute and/or funny. This includes a local French paper getting all the way into a prison in New York.  

Robert De Niro is the main protagonist as Giovanni, and he's fairly entertaining as a guy trying really hard to fit in, but also not afraid to crack some heads. He also has a lot of narration, but not too much, and comes off as funny when he's typing up his memoirs about his past days as the head of a criminal organization. He has a lot of fun flashbacks as he reminisces about the old days, and even has a weird scene where he watches Goodfellas. He also has great rapport with Jones and Pfeiffer, making their respective scenes fun and at least a little heart-warming.

The Family is also action-packed! It's got fires, explosions, shoot-outs, missile launchers, hand-to-hand fights, fingers getting lopped off, and lots of great gangster stuff. The kids even get guns in the explosive third act, which is like – whoa! I love the way it ends, which I can't spoil, but it's one of my favorite kinds of endings. It's almost noir! It's pretty noir. Noir is an adjective now, right? 

One thing about the ending though: in the final battle, an assassin, who Maggie knows, finds her and explains that he has to defile her, as a rule, before he kills her. Basically he has to rape her. As a rule. Even though no one's watching. He thankfully doesn't get a chance to (someone gets the drop on him while he's taking his pants off) but still, why? Like, was that really an important enough detail that you NEEDED to have it in there? What did it contribute to the story? Did they do it just so he wouldn't kill her immediately? They couldn't think of any other way for her to buy some time? I just don't see why they needed to include it. But it's not so bad that it ruins the rest of the experience.

The Family does a lot of things right by not sticking to clichés. It's funny and action-packed and filled with originality, great female characters, and fun moments. It's a fun film and you should check it out!

THE GOOD: Great script, great cast and acting, funny, lots of action, great female characters, good cinematography, good soundtrack, great characters, not reliant on clichés.

THE BAD: Paint-by-numbers storyline, some coincidences, attempted rape.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's great! Go see it! I'm not sure how it will hold up on repeated viewings, but it's a fun cute film with great acting and plenty to enjoy. 

MOVIES LIEK IT: Goodfellas, The Departed, Leon the Professional, The Godfather, Analyze This

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Look, if you don't want to see Dianna Agron beat the shit out of another girl for stealing her pink pencil case, I don't know what to tell ya.


  1. Good one, nice blog and great idea about the sketches, I'm. Portraitist too, you've done well, my son.

  2. Damn auto correct -- it should read "I'm a portraitist too....."