Saturday, May 20, 2017
The Family Man (2000) * * * 1/2
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Jeremy Piven, Harve Presnell, Saul Rubinek, Josef Summer, McKenzie Vega, Don Cheadle
Jack Campbell (Cage) is about to board a plane to London to undertake a business internship. His college sweetheart Kate Reynolds (Leoni) begs him not to go and instead start their life together. Jack assures Kate that he will return in one year and everything will be okay. Fast forward to thirteen years later, Jack is a wealthy investment broker closing a multi-billion dollar merger on Christmas Eve. He and Kate had long since broken up, but Jack has a sexy girlfriend, lives in a sleek Manhattan apartment, and figures he doesn't need anything more out of life. He learns over the course of The Family Man that he is wrong.
Jack encounters a guardian angel named Cash (Cheadle) on Christmas Eve, who in return for Jack's assistance in a confrontation at a convenience store, offers him a glimpse into the life he forsook when he boarded the plane to London thirteen years earlier. Jack wakes up the following morning not in his apartment, but in a suburban New Jersey home with two children and married for many years to Kate. Jack remembers his former life also and he needs plenty of adjustment to his new surroundings. He longs to return to his life as a wealthy broker, but instead is relegated to being a sales manager at his father-in-law's tire store. He sees a bottle of scotch in his desk drawer and says, "You must have needed this every day of your life," He settles into his new life kicking and screaming at first, but soon finds he realizes how empty his life was.
The Family Man sounds predictable and trite with the usual payoffs you can see coming a mile away, but the movie is sweeter and more moving than that. It is chock full of touching moments as Jack fills in the blanks as to how he arrived at this alternative reality. For Kate and everyone else, life proceeds happily and modestly. For Jack, such modesty takes acceptance and understanding. ( "I work eight hours a day selling tires at retail. Retail, Kate," ) Yet, he falls in love with Kate all over again and his kids for the first time. In an interesting twist, the oldest daughter Annie (Vega) realizes that this Jack is not really her father, but someone just occupying his father's body. Instead of underlining this development to death, Annie quietly assists Jack in adjusting to his surroundings.
Cage excels here as a man who undergoes true changes. The movie never handles things in a sitcom manner. It reveals small truths and doesn't end neatly and tidily, but with a glimmer of hope that Jack may still get to experience this life with Kate. Leoni is grounded, fiesty, and convincingly steadfast in her love for Jack and her life. Her performance is the glue that keeps the movie from splintering off into silliness.
Watching the film again recently, I understood just how many powerful moments the movie contains. The one that choked me up the most was the scene in which Jack understands that, in his new reality, he returned home from London the very next day and began his life with Kate. Judging by the coziness and warmth we feel for the Campbell family, we are glad he did.