Friday, July 29, 2011

It Takes A Lot Of Flack: The Family Man Is Sappy And Predictable, But Worthwhile.

The Good: Acting, Writing, Directing
The Bad: Pacing, Somewhat predictable
The Basics: The Family Man is a good film, though the pacing is choppy and the idea is hardly original.

The Family Man is a surprisingly good film given the rather overdone nature of the plot. It's pretty much your basic "what if you had a chance to see the consequences of one of your major decisions from the other perspective" plot. We watch the film with the basic understanding that we have an idea of what will happen: the protagonist will see the other perspective and be affected by it. I watched The Family Man on DVD and before watching it, I read the "production notes" on the film, it said that film seeks not to make a judgment, saying which decision was right or wrong, but rather illustrate how they were simply different decisions. While the film almost explicitly states that, it doesn't live up to it and that's probably the only real disappointment of the film.

Jack Campbell was offered a job in London in 1987. His partner, Kate Reynolds, had a job still in the States. So, Jack got on a plane intending to be gone for a year. Thirteen years later, he's successful and alone and he's offered, against his will, the opportunity to see the consequence of the decision to leave. Jack finds himself married to Kate and with two children, living in suburbia. Jack takes time getting used to new friends, a new job (he goes from upper management to tire salesman), and a new car. He doesn't appear nearly as shocked as one might suspect. From then on, he experiences life as a father and tire salesman until his "glimpse" ends.

The strength of the film is in its writing. While The Story of Us (reviewed here!) was made annoying by loud, long fights that took up most of the film, The Family Man is enhanced by a tension in the romance between Jack and Kate. They have some disagreements and they are emotional. The writing on those exchanges of dialogue reads as very real. Jack is surrounded by people that sound like real people. His sudden change in status is mostly realistic. Despite his flamboyant anniversary celebration with his wife, there's a moment when he must forego an $800 bottle of wine and instead get "red wine, by the glass" and that moment is quite genuine.

Films like this rely on the strength of their characters. The only character flaw here is that it's never explained what went wrong the first time through. That is, if Jack was supposed to be gone for only a year, what happened in his relationship with Kate in that year that ended up ruining it? That's never explained and it makes the end of the film quite hard to swallow. Jack and Kate, otherwise, are very well defined. They work. The peripheral characters do enough.

The weakness of the film is in its pacing more than anything else. The nature of the film makes it difficult to do something truly new or original and while The Family Man has moments where it seems to accomplish just that, but then it - for one reason or another - fails to live up to its potential. So, the beginning goes at an appropriate pace, it has a strong middle, a terribly slow late middle and then a well-paced (if thematically unsatisfying) end. This means that the film does not flow organically. In the end, that - more than any plot points - ruins the film consistency. When a film doesn't flow, it ruins the experience.

In this case, The Family Man suffers from pacing issues. It doesn't suffer much because of the acting, writing and the view of the film. I was surprised by how good the directing was. The film looks good, the camera angles flatter the movement, for the most part. A satisfying, if not extraordinary, film.

For other films with intriguing family dilemmas, please visit my reviews of:
The Spitfire Grill
Ordinary People
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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