Directed by Brett Ratner
A man gets the chance to experience the life he could have had with a woman he gave up 13 years ago.
The Family Man is a very sweet Christmas movie that wallows in its sentimentality. It does not try to be ironic or downbeat on family or the season. I liken this film to a reverse version of It’s A Wonderful Life. Rather than being taken from a good family life to see the world without him, Jack (Nicholas Cage) is put into a good family life to see what life could have been like. This movie does not talk down family or talk down suburban life. It does not take knocks at the family or at a middle-class existence which is what Jack would have had if he stuck it out with Kate. No luxury condo or fast car. Just a middleclass house and a van of questionable integrity.
Nicolas Cage stars as Jack Campbell who rather than staying with his girlfriend in the United States and building a life with her took an internship in London and became a lonely and wealthy financier. Why you would choose London over Téa Leoni (Kate), I have no idea. This was not a decision made for all the wrong reasons on the part of Jack even though it did turn out to be the wrong decision. They just grew apart even though heartfelt promises that they intended to keep were made.
What I like most though is that neither of the main characters is really a terrible person. They are just not living the happiest life they could. Kate is doing well as a woman that has chosen to focus on career over personal things. Jack too has taken a professional focus route but there is something missing in their lives and it is obviously each other.
This glimpse into what could have been is provided by a being named Cash (Don Cheadle). Whether or not he is an angel or something else is never quite made clear. He starts out as a man trying to cash (see what they did there) a lottery ticket that the store owner claims it is a forgery. Even though we should believe Cheadle initially as a thug, I just cannot. He does not look threatening or even shady. He feels like a good-natured conman. But once he becomes this film’s Clarence Goodbody the character and the actor work much better.
As I said this is the reverse of It’s A Wonderful. Jack is not taken from a family life during his time of crisis but thrust into one when things are pretty good. And by the end of it all he realizes that is a wonderful life. He may not be rich and powerful and an in charge hot shot, but it is still good. But this is just a glimpse and as such Jack cannot stay.
This is a rare style of performance for Nicolas Cage. In comparison to most of what he is known for, he is very subdued. He is not manic or crazy or weird. At the beginning he is just upset because he is in a situation he did not really ask for and he is a little upset, but he is not odd in anyway. He is playing it very straight.
I enjoyed Téa Leoni’s performance in this movie. Both versions. She pulled off being a family focused mother as well as being a career driven corporate lawyer. She worked well with Cage in what was possibly his first “dad” role.
The supporting cast is great. Makenzie Vega as Jack’s young daughter Annie steals most of the scenes she is in. She is the film’s resident cute and while able to see this is not her father assumes he is an alien. Jeremy Piven is very Jeremy Piven-ish as Jack’s friend and neighbor Arnie. Saul Rubinek shows up as Alan Mintz. I just love when I catch Rubinek in something. Do not know why though it stretches all the way back to his appearance as the collector Kivas Fajo in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Most Toys”. I thought the character was just great and his performance was superb. Harve Presnell is Jack’s father-in-law Ed Reynolds. Presnell was just one of those great actors that did so much and was a regular treat.
Brett Ratner is not a name that would spring forth if I were hiring a director for a family friendly Christmas film, but he does a good job here. He gives it a saccharine tone but not so saccharine that you will get diabetes. He created comfort food and that is usually what you are after at Christmas.
Eventually Jack does have to go back, and you really want him to stay. You are hoping that there is some loophole where the character can stay in the family world, but it is basically a fantasy to show him what could have been. And the ending of the film is not a definitive happy ending that points towards him getting what was in the fantasy, but it does put him potentially on that road and that is good enough for me. Not every ending needs to be definitive. Ambiguity is fine just as long as what information you do have allows for a conclusion.
The Family Man is a really sweet Christmas film and you should see it. It is sentimental and sweet and will warm your heart. Though a bit predictable it is an entertaining Christmas movie that should become regular holiday viewing.