Must-See Movie Review: 'The Family Man' (2000)

"The Family Man" is truly one of the best movies ever made, period. And that’s because it is one of those rare jewels that can sustain multiple viewings and constant scrutiny. Unlike “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the dream sequence is the heart of the entire story. Where the typical dream fare of cinema, lingers in a euphoric fantasy, this is a “glimpse” into a separate reality where life is challenging and honest.

When preppy Wall Streeter, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) goes to sleep solo in his New York penthouse, he wakes up with his college sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni) and their two kids. What might’ve been? Jack claims he never wondered and yet he is about to find out.

Jack, a pompous and conceited, snob does not pull a 180 overnight. It takes time for him to soak as the film’s timeline lasts from Christmas until, Valentine’s Day. This is where the film, still an unrealistic hope, considering what kind of person he is, acknowledges that it would take more than a day to change the mind of a man, whose heart has been in a deep freeze.

There’s no sob story as to why he’s the way he is. He was simply born a capitalist, who loves money and the movie doesn’t try to make you feel sorry for him. He is a narcissist. He is also an honest man and that is the angle the film leverages its hopes upon.

The film acknowledges throughout its entire duration that Jack will always be Jack. He is always capable of having success. He will always be ambitious and discontented. Can he use that to benefit someone other than himself? That would mean him accepting his newfound family as an extension of himself. How and if, he is able to achieve that is left more nebulous than typical studio productions are comfortable making it.

A scene where a flirtatious housewife and neighbor (Lisa Thornhill) puts the moves on Jack, is a benchmark moment for the film and what happens after is an exemplary display in cinematic reserve. As much as one can hope that she and Kate will have a throw down, her comeuppance is served in a uniquely innovative fashion that leaves the audience satisfied and with the film’s dignity well in-tact.

Director Brett Ratner infuses the film with a balancing act of comedy, drama and fantasy. Among it’s most astonishing triumphs is managing to tell, one of the ultimate love stories. Seeing a husband and wife, albeit in a dream state, portrayed to be in love, warts and all, is an invigorating sight to behold.

Kate is a working mom; exhausted, funny, honest and genuine. She is content in her life and she works overtime to wear her various hats, without complaining. The multi-millionaire Jack is understandably impressed. As Jack falls back in love with Kate, she is a worthy mechanism to his descent. She is presented as being Jack’s inevitability, the axis he needs, not to survive but to personally strive.

Cage and Leoni have never been better. Cage begins his characterization in his classic bravado before simmering down to a more reserved and pensive performance. Meanwhile, Leoni is the cornerstone of the film, as Cage’s wild energy surges around her; she manages to ground him.

Her performance is vulnerable, raw and devoid of any Hollywood glitz or Jane Cleaver-perfection. She is simply real. There are moments that are so authentic between her and Cage, that you almost feel like you’re walking in on an honestly private moment in suburbia. Yes, it’s that good.

Setting the film apart is the performance of Makenzie Vega as Kate and Jack’s daughter. This is the measure for all child performances and Vega gives Shirley Temple a run for her money, as far as the talent of child actors goes. Bright and precocious, she and Cage work off of each other with innate ease. She is the daughter a couple like Jack and Kate would have.

Rounding out the cast is Jeremy Piven as the good-hearted neighbor Arnie, who lives in awe of dream world-Jack and is his closest confidant. Piven’s vibrant storytelling makes everything before the cameras started rolling, a reality. There isn’t a poorly cast role in the entire film. From Don Cheadle as the intervening angel to every atmosphere artist, it’s perfection.

As Jack Campbell learns more about whom he can be; “The Family Man” already knows what it is. It’s an existential journey into the possibilities of one’s destiny, no matter how finite that plan seems to be and how far into it, one might have drifted. The memorable line “I choose us” lingers as a proposal throughout most of its duration. However, there is no question “I choose” this film, as a master work. Rating: 10/10

No comments