Another Wonderful Life?
When Jimmy Stewartís suicidal character meets Clarence the Angel in Itís A Wonderful Life, he gets a chance to see what would happen to his loved ones if he hadnít been born. Turning that fantasy upside down, The Family Man presents Nicolas Cage as a high-powered Wall Street bachelor who thinks he "has it all" until a street punk named Cash gives him a glimpse of a very different kind of life. Unfortunately, what works in the Stewart movie falls short in The Family Man. After all, who can feel much sympathy for a man who is successful in his chosen profession and seems perfectly happy with the decisions heís made?
Not that thereís anything wrong with Cageís performance here. Whether prancing around in a sleek high-rise apartment or bragging about deals in a plush New York office suite, Cage creates a character oozing with sophistication and style in the filmís early scenes. Later, he projects genuine confusion and increasing tenderness as the investment whiz becomes another version of himself.
After playing such quirky rolls as a klutzy kidnapper (Raising Arizona), a depressed ambulance driver (Bringing Out the Dead), and a reluctant car thief (Gone in 60 Seconds), this is a nice change of pace for Oscar-winner Cage (Leaving Las Vegas). However, The Family Man requires his character to change too quickly from a power-driven executive with no personal attachments to a happily married tire salesman with two young children. Okay, I know this is a fantasy, but I usually need some grounding in reality before suspending disbelief while watching a movie.
Waking up on Christmas morning, Jack Cambell (Cage) is shocked to be in bed with Kate (Tea Leoni), his girlfriend of 13 years ago. Heís also frightened by the sound of a baby crying in the next room and a six-year-old girl (the darling Mackenzie Vega) calling him "Daddy" while jumping on the bed. The rest of the movie focuses on Jackís reactions to this strange new environment. And Cage makes the most of this chance to showcase his versatility as an actor. I was especially amused by his playful interactions with Vega. Thinking Jack is an alien sent to replace her real father, the youngster tells him stoically, "Welcome to Earth." Pretending to go along with her theory, our frustrated "big city man" gains a helpful guide to life in the suburbs.
In addition to Cageís fine acting, co-star Leoniís energetic interpretation of Kate is a plus in The Family Man. This is her best performance since playing the hilarious social worker in Flirting with Disaster. From the minute she orders her husband to bring "Strong coffee!" to the last sequence where she gives crisp directions to a moving crew, Leoniís Kate is like a force of nature. Dynamic, funny, and photogenic, the talented actress holds her own with Cage in scene after scene. And, fortunately, a great on-screen chemistry between these two makes it easy to believe Kate and Nick still love each other and belong together.
Nevertheless, because similar "what if" situations were filmed so well in Me Myself I and Sliding Doors, I expected more depth from The Family Man. Instead, I was disappointed with its overly sentimental tone and rather questionable message. Are married men with children actually more deserving of happiness than single guys? According to this movie, yes. I think thatís a much too cynical attitude in a film released during the Christmas season (or probably at any other time). Hey, even Charles Dickensí stingy bachelor Scrooge ended up understanding and appreciating the Yuletide spirit!
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sensuality and some language.)