|The Family Man (Collector's Edition)|
|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 17 July 2001|
As the movie opens, young Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is leaving the U.S. for an extended stay in London, sure that his job there will help him in his business career. His girlfriend Kate (Téa Leoni) is suddenly fearful that his leaving will change everything, that they won't end up together. Jack leaves anyway -- and 13 years later, he is not married to Kate. Instead, he's a wolf of Wall Street, a successful (and very single) man, happy with his sports car, his luxurious apartment, his succession of lovers, and his career.
On Christmas Eve, he talks an angry black guy, Cash (Don Cheadle), out of possibly holding up a convenience store, and offers to help him. "Everybody needs something," he tells Cash. Everybody, Jack adds, except himself. "Remember, you brought this on yourself," Cash says cheerfully (but ominously).
The next morning, Jack wakes up in a strange bed with Kate, with two children rushing in who call him daddy. Shocked, Jack tries to find out what's up, and soon learns -- from Cash, now driving Jack's beloved sports car -- that he has been given a "glimpse" of what his life might have been like had he not gone to London. He's a tire salesman, he's living in New Jersey, and is married to Kate; those two kids, Annie (Makenzie Vega) and Josh, are his own. Gone is Wall Street and the life that late he led. This is now his life.
At first, horrified and angry, Jack tries to reject it all, but finally realizing there's really no way out of it, he tries to make the most of it. He even goes bowling with neighbor and best friend Arnie (Jeremy Piven). And gradually, Jack comes to like, then love, his life as a family man. But it IS just a glimpse....
As suggested, one of the most remarkable aspects of this romantic fantasy comedy-drama is that it does not paint Jack's life prior to the glimpse as bad. He really was happy as a single man, happy in his Wall Street work. He really did feel he didn't need anything. We're even given two examples of how his life could turn out in that version of it: his boss Peter Lassiter (Josef Sommer) is himself childless but not lonely, a cold but content aging millionaire. Also in the office is Alan Mintz (Saul Rubinek); he tends to be something of a shnook, but he himself is a happy family man.
To a degree, the script by David Diamond and David Weissman sentimentalizes the family-man life Jack has been forced to lead, but this is, after all, largely a comedy. And director Brett Ratner ('Rush Hour') does require great cinematographer Dante Spinotti to shoot the pre-"glimpse" scenes in a cold, clinical light. The children are adorable -- particularly Makenzie Vega, who's excellent, and who's given some amusing material. (She concludes her daddy has been temporarily replaced by a benign alien, and offers him helpful advice.) Jack has to work hard, but it's for his father in law (Harve Presnell, a decent guy if something a blowhard). Kate is doing pro bono law work, and happy in it. The new life isn't as luxurious as the old one, but it's a good one, and essentially realistically presented. (Although one suspects few connected with the movie have ever led such a life themselves.)
The ending is quite unusual in that it does NOT set everything right again; Jack is presented with significant problems that we hope he'll be able to work through, but even at the very end, this is not certain. This surprisingly melancholy ending gives the movie a slightly astringent flavor, unexpected in this context, but welcome and, in its own way, satisfying.
'The Family Man' is not a Yuletide classic, but it will hold up well over the years, and might eventually become a perennial. Other movies in this category (holiday-oriented stories) have often taken quite a long time to catch on thoroughly; even 'It's a Wonderful Life' was basically a failure on its first release, and only garnered its now-enthusiastic following through its television showings.
The DVD is handsomely presented, with excellent DTS sound that enhances Danny Elfman's poignant score. The menus are well-designed featuring, as usual these days, clips from the film itself. There are a few deleted scenes, none of which is especially interesting, although Paul Sorvino turns up in one, but not in the finished film. The outtakes seem mostly to consist of Cage breaking up in scenes with Jeremy Piven. There's a 'Choose Your Fate' that's a complete waste of time and space, and a music video that is only a little better.
There are THREE commentary tracks; by far the most interesting features director Ratner and writers Diamond and Weissman. There's nothing much wrong with those by Elfman and producer Marc Abraham, but you're not likely to listen to them all the way through.
This is the kind of film that sneaks up on you in your memories; if you buy it, next Christmas don't be surprised if you find yourself pulling it out to show friends this "good little movie." Or, if you're single yourself, watching it alone, and wondering how your life might have gone if only you had.....