‘Mafia Mamma’ Review: Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci in Catherine Hardwicke’s Strained Mob Comedy
The creators of the new film starring Toni Collette aren’t exactly shy in revealing their high concept. The ads announce, “From suburban mom to mafia don,” and you can practically hear the phrase being uttered during the pitch meeting. Unfortunately, while it’s welcome to see the versatile Collette given the infrequent opportunity for a big-screen leading role, Mafia Mamma squanders her considerable talents. Watching the actress do her damnedest to channel Lucille Ball — to the point of engaging in a vigorous grape stomping scene! — in this strained comedy proves a trying experience.
Collette plays Kristin, a pharma company marketing executive who suffers a midlife crisis when she’s constantly belittled at work, her teenage son goes off to college, and she discovers her slacker, would-be musician husband cheating on her in their own home. So she’s not entirely resistant when she gets an unexpected call from a woman named Bianca (Monica Bellucci), who tells Kristin that the grandfather she never met has just died in Italy and she must come to the country immediately to attend the funeral and settle his affairs.
The Bottom Line
High concept, low brow.
Encouraged by her workout buddy Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), Kristin heads to Rome for what she hopes will be, after the funeral at least, an “Eat Pray Fuck” experience since she hasn’t had sex in three years. After a “meet cute” at the airport with the much younger, hunky Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), she’s greeted by a pair of bodyguards (an amusingly Laurel and Hardyish Alfonso Perugini and Francesco Matroianni), who escort her to her grandfather’s palatial estate.
It isn’t long before Kristin discovers that she’s actually been summoned to take her grandfather’s place as head of the local crime family, with Bianca serving as her trusted consiglieri. The position is not without its risks, as Kristin finds out when an assassination attempt is made during her grandfather’s funeral and a competing crime boss tries to poison her during a private meeting.
Even while pursuing her goals of having lots of sex and eating the pasta and gelato recommended by Trip Advisor, Kristin manages to warm up to her new position, although not without some pitfalls along the way. One sequence in particular spotlights the film’s tone-deafness in infusing its screwball farce with over-the-top violence. During a Zoom meeting with her oblivious employers, who put her on mute, she desperately fights a would-be assassin to the death, finally dispatching him with the heel of her shoe with which she stabs his eye and testicles. The best description of the explicit mayhem comes from one of her impressed bodyguards, who proudly points out, “He had bits of his scrotum stuffed in his eye socket.”
If that comment, or the graphic depiction of said act, strikes you as amusing, you may be the target audience for Mafia Mamma. The film’s creatives — including director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), screenwriters Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, and producer Amanda Sthers, who came up with the original story — seem to think they’re trafficking in feminist themes. But despite Collette’s talents, the central character seems distinctly dumbed-down in her pursuits. She doesn’t come across nearly as well as Bellucci’s Bianca, who delivers one of the film’s few funny lines after Kristin finally sleeps with Lorenzo. “I thought that once you had sex, you’d calm down a bit,” she says, unwittingly speaking for the film’s audience. Meanwhile, Collette is saddled with such dumb bits as giddily announcing “I made muffins!” at a meeting with rival crime families.
In contrast to Bellucci, who underplays in dignified fashion, Collette works hard, very hard, to sell the concept and her character. That she fails is not an insult to her formidable gifts, but rather due to the flimsiness of the material, which seems better suited to the small screen. If you want to see a truly witty comedy dealing with similar themes, stick with rewatching Jonathan Demme’s terrific 1988 film. Married to the Mob.
Production companies: IDEA(L), Vocal Films, New Sparta
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Cast: Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Sophia Nomvete, Eduardo Scarpetta, Alfonso Perugini, Francesco Mastroianni, Giulio Corso, Dora Romano, Giuseppe Zeno, Vincenzo Pirrotta, Tommy Rodger
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenwriters: Michael J. Feldman, Debbie John
Producers: Amanda Sthers, Toni Collette, Christopher Simon
Executive producers: Alison Thompson, Mark Gooder, Catherine Hardwicke, Jerome Booth, Jen Turner, Peter Touche, Andrea Scarso, Christelle Conan, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Evangelo Kioussis, Simon Baxter, Marc Goldberg, Andrew Karpen, Kent Sanderson
Director of photography: Patrick Murguia
Production designer: Livia Borgognoni
Editor: Waldemar Centeno
Composer: Alex Heffes
Costume designer: Claudette Lilly
Casting: Armando Pizzuti
Rated R, 1 hour 41 minutes
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