out of five stars
Perfect Christmas-period entertainment – a re-working of It’s A Wonderful
Life, with superb performances from Cage and Leoni.
Nicolas Cage plays Jack Campbell, a successful, work-obsessed Wall Street
businessman who "has everything he needs". However, when he intervenes in what looks like a store hold-up, the ‘hold-up man’ (Don Cheadle playing the angel role, though it’s never explicitly stated) gives him a ‘glimpse’ into what his life would have been like if he’d married his college sweetheart Kate (Téa Leoni) thirteen years previously.
And so Jack wakes up on Christmas morning to find himself married with two children, holding down a job as a car tyre salesman, and with a station wagon in place of his beloved Ferrarri…
This being a Christmas feel-good movie, it’s not hard to predict how the
film is going to end, so the film has to stand or fall on how much fun
you’re going to have along the way. Fortunately, thanks to stand-out performances from both Cage and Leoni (previously wasted in the atrocious Deep Impact, this will hopefully lead to bigger and better things), The Family Man proves to be extremely enjoyable and even manages to avoid the pitfalls of cloying sentimentality that usually ruin films like this.
Cage is superb in the film, which is just as well, given that he’s in every
scene. Wisely, he has reined in his –to put it politely- slight tendency to
overact, and his reactions to his sudden predicament are believable and
For example, the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning, he rushes back to his ‘old’ life only to find that no-one knows him anymore.
Leoni is wonderful too, so much so that it’s difficult to see exactly what
Jack misses about his old life – fortunately, a potentially ruinous sub-plot
about Jack contemplating an affair is swiftly dropped.
There’s a lot of comedy in the film, too – mostly from Jack ‘learning’ how
to look after the kids, change nappies and so on. His relationship with his daughter Paula (Amber Valletta), who somehow perceives that he’s ‘not really her Dad’ (he goes along with her theory that her real Dad’s been abducted by aliens) is also very touching, largely thanks to the fact that Hollywood has found yet another annoyance-free child actor in Valletta.
The film does have its share of flaws (several plot strands and a few
characters are raised then dropped), but the film never loses its way as a
result, so these are minor quibbles.
To sum up, then, this is perfect feel-good Christmas-period family entertainment. Highly recommended.