“The Family Man”, directed by Brett Rattner (“Rush Hour”) is a film that I did not rush out to see. Last summer, I watched a terrific Australian film called “Me Myself I” starring Rachel Griffiths. It explores exactly the same territory. If I didn’t know better, I would say that “The Family Man” is a remake, but the Australian film was not credited as a source.
“The Family Man” is also very similar to the classic “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Both films explore the lives of men that are interested in change and both men get to see what their lives would be like if they were changed. There is a key difference and this difference is why “The Family Man” ultimately does not work. In “It’s A Wonderful Life”, James Stewart’s character does not fulfill his dreams, but he actually likes his life. When things get very bad, all of the sacrifices he has made throughout his life come crashing down and make him resentful. He gets to see what his life would be like if he had never been born. In “The Family Man”, Jack Campbell is very successful and seems to enjoy his life immensely. His old girlfriend calls, which prompts about a moment of misgiving. Then he is back to business. The glimpse of his alternate life is forced upon him. He soon comes to accept it, but he never really wanted it and it takes him a long time to realize that he was missing anything. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is about a man’s glimpse of a life that he doesn’t really want. He is given the glimpse because he has helped a lot of people and his misgivings are misplaced. “The Family Man” is about a selfish man that really isn’t interested in changing. His alternate life is forced upon him, beating him over the head until he accepts it. This is supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy, but it only made me annoyed.
The best thing about “The Family Man” is actually the family woman. Tea’ Leoni plays Kate, Jack’s girlfriend/ wife. She is simply great. I believed she was married, made a few sacrifices and now really enjoys her life, with this man, with her two children. She is a wife I would like to have. Funny, sexy, loving, sarcastic, demanding. This is also the first major role for Tea’. Yes, I know she was the star of “Deep Impact”, but she acted against a rock. In “The Family Man’, well, she acts against a rock.
No, that isn’t fair. Nicholas Cage actually does a pretty good job. But to make this film successful, and the perennial Christmas classic it wants so bad to be, Jack needed to have a little more doubt. As I said, he loves his life. Why is it necessary to show him an alternate? He isn’t thinking about suicide, he isn’t unhappy, he isn’t destitute. The journey becomes meaningless because the main character does not want the journey.
“The Family Man” is the perfect film to catch on video or on cable because it has some pleasant moments that might make you smile. It isn’t worth a bargain matinee.