Nicolas Cage in: The Family Man

The Family Man

Released in 2000 ▪ Review posted June 29, 2014

“Just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no business man.”

George Bailey

There are many reasons to hate The Family Man, but like a child who’s just the right balance of precocious and adorable, you almost have to like it. A large part of that is because of Cage’s performance. A full 65 percent, if I had to quantify. The nearly insurmountable obstacles this movie sets up for the viewer make Cage’s achievement especially impressive.

The Family Man is a Christmas movie. Not a good Christmas movie like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Die Hard, no. It’s a family Christmas movie—a special type of hell-film. Not only that, it makes aggressive use of the “magical Negro” trope (also used in It Could Happen to You), something that remains reprehensible, especially in this family Christmas setting. Why the family gotta be white? Why is the only black person in the film introduced holding up a convenience store? Racist insanity.

The plot rips off It’s A Wonderful Life, except instead of seeing what the world would be like without him, Cage’s Jack Campbell gets to see what life would be like if he became a suburban 9-to-5 dad instead of a millionaire Wall Street banker.

The movie is both racist and trite. If I were setting you up on a blind date with this movie, I’d describe it as “really funny.” And that would be true.

Nic spends the majority of the movie grappling with the fact that his life as a millionaire had suddenly become a fiction. One that only he and—for whatever reason—“magic negro” Don Cheadle know about. If you think about it, that’s only got one kind of potential: comedic. Nic identifies that early and plays it up perfectly. We already know he can do smug Manhattan business man with precision. Now put that asshole in a suburb. Driving himself around in a mini-van. It’s great. He gets sick from rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. He tries to cheat on his wife with the local milf. He can’t understand a family budget.

The best part about it all, as shown in that last video, is that Cage is genuinely mean. He belligerently runs through a list of things that suck about being a suburban dad, delivering his tirade publicly and using it as an opportunity to belittle his wife in front of his kids. This is exactly the kind of adult temper tantrum that an actual Wall Street asshole would throw in a contrived situation like this.

Bringing further authenticity to the nonsense of The Family Man is the ever-endearing Téa Leoni. She takes Cage’s increasing abuse in stride and exudes such cheerful positivity that you end up rooting for her, her family, and eventually Jack Campbell himself. When the movie comes to its predictable conclusion, she makes it easier to understand why Campbell, now back to his original millionaire life, would sacrifice a major business deal to try to be with Leoni’s character. The chemistry works. Cage drives this slowly collapsing vehicle, ably co-piloted by Leoni.

The Family Man is not a movie I would recommend. I wouldn’t feel right giving it my seal of approval. But I can say that it’s at least watchable, in large part thanks to Nic.

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