Nostalgia has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds as Hollywood enters its own post-COVID era, with remakes, legacy sequels and cinematic universes getting the greenlight from studios more frequently.
But Catherine Hardwicke’s newest crime comedy “Mafia Mamma” satisfies a different kind of nostalgia hunger. Reminiscent of the 2000s, an era with a boom of mid-budget adult comedies, the film provides plenty of laughs and a genuine heart, even if it slips into the pitfalls of many of its inspirations.
Director of hits like “Twilight” (2008) and “Thirteen” (2003), Hardwicke has had a knack for taking high-concept but accessible scripts and making a genuine heartfelt spectacle out of them. And “Mafia Mamma” is no different.
The story follows an unhappy middle-aged woman, Kristin (Toni Collette), who is exhausted from working a dead-end job, living with a loser husband and has just sent her only son off to college. Kristin soon learns her grandfather passed away and decides to go to Italy for the funeral and a much-needed vacation. Upon arriving, Kristin finds out her grandfather was not a winemaker, but a mafia don, who died not from natural causes, but from being murdered in an act of war by the enemy mob family. Now Kristin, being the only direct and living descendant of her grandfather, must take over the family business in the middle of a war.
While the script goes beyond just the expected humor of each scenario, it suffers from an overly convoluted plot and underdeveloped side characters. What it does best is create a truly moving arc for Kristin as she learns she can be more than her husband’s wife or her son’s mother, and the strength of this allows for a real connection between Kristin and the audience. But the backdrop of the mob war, Kristin’s lack of experience in organized crime and the family’s disdain at Kristin taking over all fall relatively flat. Audiences will likely wish the focus would shift back to Kirstin as a person, not Kristin as a mafia donna.
Collette is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the film. Her screen presence in this film is as captivating as ever, giving Kristin such a charm that draws the audience to her. Her ability to walk the very fine line of providing a strong and coherent emotional performance while also balancing the silliness of the script is unique to her. Collette has often found herself in some tragic but very funny roles throughout her career, like “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) or “The Way Way Back,” (2013) and this film will serve as another example of her strength as a performer — even without the highest quality source material.
The film does suffer from many of the same pitfalls moviegoers saw with similar higher-concept comedies of the earlier 21st century, with the film being centered around a bankable star and a talented director but lacking any sort of support in many other departments to make it as strong of a film that it could be.
Many of the technical aspects of the film fall flat, with the exception of Hardwicke’s talent in making consistently interesting motions or blocking throughout her scenes. Even with that added bonus, “Mafia Mamma” doesn’t have the charm, or push by anyone involved, to create an experience worth remembering past the length it takes for audiences to arrive home from the theater.