Thursday, October 17, 2013
"THE FAMILY" (2013) Review
"THE FAMILY" (2013) Review
Has Luc Besson ever directed a comedy before? The reason I raised this question is that I have always associated him with action drama and was surprised to learn that he had recently directed one. Mind you, I am not a major fan of Besson's work. But I have enjoyed a few of his movies and decided to see what this latest one was about.
Based upon Tonino Benacquista's novel, "Malavita", "THE FAMILY" told the story of a Mafia underboss and his family living in France under the Witness Protection Program. Six years earlier, Giovanni Maznoni had displeased his boss, Mafia kingpin Don Luchese, in Brooklyn. After a failed attempt on his life at a family barbecue, Giovanni snitched on his boss, which led to him and his family entering a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Stansfield. The Maznoni family lived in the South of France for a while, until Giovanni's disgruntled action against a local tradesman attracted the attention of Don Luchese to their location. The movie began with the family forced to move to a small town near Normandy.
"THE FAMILY" follows the Maznonis' activities as they attempt to adjust to French small town life. Giovanni informs neighbors that he is a historian, writing a book about the Normandy invasion during World War II. Actually, he is writing his personal memoirs against Special Agent Stansfield's advice. He also becomes obsessed with the local authorities' lack of concern over the brown water coming from the plumbing. Wife Maggie's unpleasant encounter with an anti-American grocer leads to the destruction of his store. Guilt leads her to the local church for confession and friendship with the priest. His daughter Belle falls in love with a substitute Math teacher, who also happens to be a college student. And his son Warren organizes his own intelligence clique at school, after being beaten up by a group of bullies. The Maznonis family's storylines conclude when Don Luchese finally stumbles across their whereabouts and send a team of hit men to kill them.
And how did Luc Besson fare with comedy? Honestly, his handling of the story and the cast struck me as pretty effective. His direction of the cast and his handling of the screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo certainly did not strike me as awkward or unfunny. Since the story began with Maznonis being veterans of the Witness Protection Program, I was relieved that Besson and Caleo's screenplay allowed for a flashback to explain how they ended in that situation in the first place. I found the separate story lines regarding the Maznonis family's experiences in Normandy rather amusing. I did not exactly find myself on the floor, rolling with laughter . . . well, except for one scene. But I cannot deny that I found the movie somewhat funny. My favorite moments included Maggie's destruction of the bigoted grocer's store, the Maznonis family's barbecue for their French neighbors, Belle's brutal handling of three fellow schoolmates who tried to seduce her into a ride into the countryside and a sex-filled picnic, Warren's revenge against some school thugs and especially Giovanni's violent handling of the brown water problem. As for that one scene that actually had me rolling in the aisle with laughter? Giovanni's lies about being a historian led the head of a local film festival to invite him to comment on a historical film being shown. When the film turned out to be Scorsese's 1991 film, "GOODFELLAS" . . . well, you can imagine my reaction.
As much as I enjoyed the film, I cannot honestly say that it was one of the best comedies I had ever seen. I found it more amusing than funny. I was also a little disappointed at how Don Luchese finally stumbled across the Maznonis' location. I found it . . . well, irrelevant. This little plot point had nothing to do with the main story lines featuring the Maznonis family. It seemed to come out of no where. Despite the flashback featuring Don Luchese's first attempt to kill Giovanni, Besson and Caleo's screenplay never revealed the reason behind the Don's first attempt. The screenplay never revealed what Giovanni had done to originally earn the Don's ire.
"THE FAMILY" featured some first-rate performances from the cast. Robert De Niro gave a very funny performance as the stir-crazy former gangster who seemed to have difficulty adjusting to a less violent life after six years away from the Mob. Michelle Pfieffer was equally hilarious as his sardonic wife, who seemed to be exasperated by her husband's antics. Besson made some excellent casting choices for the roles of Belle and Warren Maznonis. Not only do Dianna Agron (from FOX's"GLEE") and John D'Leo look as if they could be the children of De Niro and Pfieffer, the pair did a great job in holding their own with the two veterans. Tommy Lee Jones gave a nice, subtle performance as the family's contact man - FBI Special Agent Stansfield. But aside from one major scene - the film festival - I did not find him particularly funny.
As much as I enjoyed "THE FAMILY", I could honestly say that I would highly recommend anyone to see it at the theaters as soon as possible. Yes, it was funny. And yes, it featured some first-rate performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfieffer. I found Luc Besson's direction solid and well-paced. Also, the script he wrote with Michael Caleo struck me diverting. But as I had hinted earlier, "THE FAMILY" never struck me as a comedic classic.