Toni Collette stars in and produces Mafia Mamma
, a movie that wants to be a female empowerment comedy, but lacks the energy and the knowledge to hit the marks it wants to. Collette's character is supposed to go through a metamorphosis from a meek housewife who is walked on all over by her unfaithful man-child husband (Tim Daish) and her sexist bosses at work, to a take-charge woman who doesn't need a man in her life to make her happy after she takes charge of her estranged grandfather's criminal empire in Italy.
The problem is that there is a lifelessness here that not even an actress as immensely talented as Collette can overcome. This is a lame, underwritten satire that is trying to say something, but it gets lost in a mess of characters we care little about, and share such little chemistry that it never generates any excitement. The fact that the movie can't even film Italy or its food in an interesting way is the least of its problems. Maybe at some point this had potential as a fish-out-of-water comedy with a violent streak and a message, but it got withered away by a production that doesn't capture the slightest bit of life. We watch the movie play out, failing to deliver on the slightest laugh, and I started to wonder what Collette was even doing here, other than she wanted a few months holiday in a faraway place.
The movie opens with the death of mafia Don Guiseppe
Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), who is gunned down by a rival family. To the surprise of everyone in his family, he leaves everything to his American granddaughter Kristin (Collette), who has never met her grandfather or what he did for a living. Kristin sees this as a chance to get away from her unfaithful husband, and to help combat the feelings of sadness she's experiencing over her teenage son (Tommy Rodger) going off to college, so she leaps at the chance to go to Italy to attend the funeral. It is Don Balbano’s trusted advisor
Bianca (Monica Bellucci), who fills Kristin in on what her grandfather did, and what she is expected to now fill in his absence.
Naturally, there is skepticism within the family about Kristin taking charge, especially with her cousin, Fabrizio
(Eduardo Scarpetta), who thinks he should be in charge of the family. But with time, Kristin is able to arrange a peace agreement with the rival family, starts a wine making business, and even falls in love with a local man (Giulio Corso). We're supposed to be watching Kristin evolve and take charge for the first time in her life, but the movie has such a lazy air to it that I never felt the sense of liberation that was supposed to be coming off the screen. It's not just the fact that the characters are largely broad stereotypes who speak only in cliches of the movie genre they represent. It's the fact that the movie has just been directed by Catherine Hardwicke with such an impersonal touch.
is filled with moments that simply don't land, because the energy isn't there. We can tell that Collette is trying to sell this somewhat goofy and sunny character who finds herself dragged into the criminal underworld, and doesn't quite know how to act. (She bakes muffins for a mafia family meeting.) But, she shares absolutely no chemistry with anybody else on the screen. Monica Bellucci is supposed to play her best friend within the crime family, but she disappears for such long periods of time, they never get to build the close relationship that the movie wants them to. Likewise, her relationship with the handsome man she meets during her time there never takes off or creates any passion, it makes her final declaration of independence near the end of the film meaningless, because I never bought their love in the first place.
This is the kind of movie that wants to make you laugh and feel empowered, but the audience watches in stone-cold silence, because it achieves nothing it sets out to do. It's been flatly directed, sloppily edited, and just a sad experience all around, because you know the people involved are capable of making the movie they wanted to, and you just have to wonder what went wrong.