Ick. Great cast, interesting premise, but ick. The Family teeters between comedy and action with the grace of tranquilized hippopotamus climbing Mt. Everest. Robert De Niro plays a mafia snitching patriarch of a family on the run. Michelle Pfeifer is cast as his wife while Glee’s Dianna Agron is his daughter and John D’Leo his son. Instead of being housed in witness protection someplace in North Dakota, this fish out water tale takes place in rural France which makes as much sense as the before mentioned incapacitated hippo climbing Everest.
The Family is produced and directed by Luc Besson whose past cinematic efforts have been hit or miss. An early problem with this film is with setting it in a small town which is populated with what is presumed are French stereotypes. One gets the idea (based on a prominent twist in the storyline) that Besson really, really wanted to make a mob film with De Niro. He used the recipe of taking the De Niro who starred in The Godfather: Part II, Goodfellas, and Casino and put him in good ole rustic Normandy then added guns and ironic comic quips hoping for a Scorsese movie with a side of brie.
I know I am not the only one who has noticed that De Niro has done variations of this role before…and I’m not talking about playing a made man; I’m talking playing a made man who uses a threat of violence, along with actual violence, as comedic fodder. Honestly, I would rather see De Niro play one of his mafioso bad guys then see him again as a Mafia hit man going through a midlife crisis for chuckles. When he takes on roles like this it is easy to forget he is one of America’s premiere actors because it feels as if he is phoning in his performance. In the case of The Family he is phoning it in long distance.
To continue this Mafia film reunion, veteran moll actress (Scarface and Married to the Mob) Pfeifer is the Mama Mia of the clan. She actually makes the most of her role as a mother who has no control over where she will be moving next while constructing a life that she did not sign up for. If the movie had centered the narrative on Pfeifer’s Maggie it might have faired better. For me the best laughs of the film came from the interaction between reforming mob wife and a priest hoping to add to his congregational flock.
Agron and D’Leo are stuck with storylines that feel dated. Agron’s character of Mafia princess in hiding has a romanticized view of first love which she will not allow to be spoiled by local lads who believe they have her in a corner. She remedies their naiveté by showing them an impressive tennis backhand then treating them to a great speech about how to relate to women. D’Leo’s character arc involves various school centered schemes, but I felt a lot of his scenes were cut because his storyline was disjointed.
The final ingredient to this mix is Tommy Lee Jones as a witness protection officer. Jones, Pfeifer, and De Niro all in the same film – oh, the wasted possibilities!
My main issue is that The Family tries to establish a comedic undertone while at the same time is quite violent. The affect is jarring. What could be funny isn’t because it is within the context of realistic violence. It’s a fine line to attempt humor amongst bloodshed and Besson is no Quentin Tarantino and The Family is no Pulp Fiction. When the final slaughter begins all goodwill towards De Niro’s Fred Blake is lost because the audience isn’t really invested in seeing him or his family pull through. It just might have been better for all involved if the children flew the coop and Mom left on her own accord to establish a small restaurant in the south of France. As for Papa Familias, he can continue to type away on his personal manifesto.
I do not recommend seeing The Family in the theater although it seems as if there is little else showing. I don’t think it will work on a smaller screen either. It might be worth viewing if you are a fan of everything Mob related, but I think a better investment of your time could be made by watching the latest Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion.