THE STORY – An American mom inherits her grandfather’s mafia empire in Italy. Guided by the firm’s consigliere, she hilariously defies everyone’s expectations as the new head of the family business.
THE CAST – Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Sophia Nomvete, Eduardo Scarpetta, Tim Daish
THE TEAM – Catherine Hardwicke (Director), J. Michael Feldman & Debbie Jhoon (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
Ever since Toni Collette screamed “I am your mother!” at Alex Wolff’s character in “Hereditary,” it has been nearly impossible not to say or think “mother” whenever the Oscar nominee shows up onscreen. In quite the 360-degree turn, she takes her maternal figure stature to a less-serious and way goofier level in Catherine Hardwicke’s “Mafia Mamma.”
Collette can do almost no wrong in films, with her moving and passionate performances in all genres, particularly her dramatic/horror work in “Hereditary” and her Oscar-nominated role in “The Sixth Sense.” But, it’s always delightful to see Collette in comedies, such as her wonderful turn in “Little Miss Sunshine,” in which she tries to keep her family from killing each other during a cross-country beauty pageant road trip. The Australian actress has a knack for dry deliveries and deadpan looks — qualities that make for a great comedic actor. In “Mafia Mamma,” in which Colette’s character learns that she’s the heir to an Italian mafia empire, she leans into those skills and brings her fun side out in a number of wild scenes, even if the comedy itself fails to stand out as much.
Before she learns of the Italian adventure of a lifetime, Kristin Balbano (Collette) is a suburban mother whose life is less than glamorous. Her coworkers don’t respect her at work, and her son leaves the nest for college, thus leaving her with her childish husband (Rob Huebel), who she finds cheating on her with a younger woman. When she receives a phone call from an international number notifying her that her estranged grandfather has died in Italy, it gives her a chance to escape the madness of her life. And, as her friend Jenny (a funny but underutilized Sophia Nomvete) puts it, it could be her version of “Eat, Pray, Love”: “Eat, Pray, F—.”
Once she sets foot in Italy, though, Kristin’s world turns upside down, and her getaway becomes a bit complicated. Reuniting with her long-lost family means inheriting a few dirty secrets, like the fact that she’s now the heir of her grandfather’s mafia empire, and she’s now tasked with trying to smooth relations between the Balbanos and a rival family. Until this point in the film, Collette plays a standard, fairly bland character who doesn’t have much going on in their life, but once this revelation hits, she really gets to up the comedy antics.
Not only is Kristin the wrong person for the job, but she’s terrified of almost everything happening around her, which, for our entertainment pleasure, means that there will be some hijinks. Throughout her vacation, she meets various family business members, including Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), a tough, no-nonsense guy who wants to take over, and Bianca (Monica Belluci), an advisor to the Balbano family who is among the kinder people Kristin meets. There are also her two bodyguards, Aldo and Dante (Francesco Mastroianni and Alfonso Perugini), who are ripe for a spinoff buddy comedy of their own. As she begins to lean into her new role, the fish-out-of-water embarks on several dangerous meetings that lead to a few funny and grotesque scenes, such as one involving a heel that functions well as a stabbing tool. In all of these situations, Collette plays off as a damsel in distress, which gets tiring very quickly, but then she throws us a few surprises that make these moments pretty entertaining to watch. And, of course, a trip to Italy wouldn’t be without a lover or two, and we see our heroine fully enchant the flirty men in this country.
Regarding the actual story, “Mafia Mamma” won’t be garnering any Academy Award nominations. It’s a film you don’t take seriously as you’re watching it, and one that Italians might not be too fond of due to its stereotypical mafia labeling. It also doesn’t have many surprises, and the ones it does have can be spotted miles away. Other performances in the film aren’t memorable or ones to rave about, although Belluci and Scarpetta have enjoyable banter and play opposite Collette well. However, one aspect of the film that will certainly capture people’s attention is the beautiful Italian landscape and architecture captured by cinematographer Patrick Murguia and production designer Livia Borgognoni.
Overall, “Mafia Mamma” is completely silly and won’t leave much of an impression on audiences, but sometimes a downright goofy comedy isn’t bad when you need to get your mind off of everyday life. The story is less than stellar and pretty obvious from the get-go, but Collette brings her comedic charms when you need a good laugh in the middle of a ridiculous scene. It’s certainly not the best showcase of her talents, but any movie involving Collette and the phrase “Eat, Pray, F—” will be enough for her biggest fans to shout, “Good for her!” and run to the theater.