Mafia Mamma: Review
Mafia Mamma Synopsis: Kristen (Toni Collette), a mild-mannered suburban mom, unexpectedly inherits her late grandfather’s mafia empire in Italy. Guided by the firm’s trusted consigliere, she hilariously defies everyone’s expectations as she finds herself stuck in the middle of a deadly mob war.
Stuck in a midlife crisis, suburban mom Kristen ventures to her grandfather’s funeral in Italy only to discover she’s inherited a fearsome mafia operation in Mafia Mamma.
The murdering menace and fascinating familial ties of mobster life are time-honored cinematic staples. I am sure everyone can conjure up vivid pictures of Francis Ford Coppola’s prestigious classic The Godfather or one of Martin Scorssese’s many electric offerings when asked about mafia films. At its best, the genre provokes thought-provoking rise-and-fall stories that capture humanity’s pursuit of the American Dream in its most depraved state.
Mafia Mamma offers an intriguing remix in the mafioso wheelhouse. Director Catherine Hardwick and her creative team twist the commonplace rules of mob films in a spirited farce driven by an unlikely presence in the genre – a loving mother searching for her identity after years of belittlement from her ditsy husband and toxic workplace.
While most critics have cried foul (the film is hovering around the low 20% range on Rotten Tomatoes), I found Mafia Mamma to be a refreshing pallet cleanser in its humorous pursuits. The film personifies a vibrant voice and deceptively incisive ambitions in a crowd-pleaser bursting with creative gusto.
Hardwick and her screenwriting team make the most out of their alluring premise. The cultural clash between Kristen’s earnestly loving persona and the rigid mafia principles forms an excellent foundation for hijinks to ensue. Mafia Mamma mines significant comedic mileage out of this juxtaposition, whether Kristen is bumbling her way through an assassination attempt or presenting homemade muffins at a meeting with a rival organization. The film frequently displays awareness of its mobster movie influences, often finding ingenious avenues for parodying indelible moments from the genre’s godfathers. I also appreciated the vulgar R-rating approach here. With so many movies catering to middle-aged women with bland pleasantness, it is a joy to watch a film emboldened by its onslaught of swearing, violence, and promiscuity.
Mafia Mama’s pursuit of laughs is not entirely mindless. Hardwick harbors deep roots as an astute feminist filmmaker with projects like Thirteen, Miss You Already, and the first Twilight under her belt. With Mafia Mama, she imbues a similar sense of empowerment and understanding in Kristen. The character’s pursuit of an identity outside of her fractured family and workplace dynamics receives more meaningful textures onscreen than one would expect as she reforms the mob to fit her aspirations (she switches the mob operation’s focus to selling exorbitantly-priced pharmaceuticals at a discount rate). A lesser project would undoubtedly morph Kristen into a cartoonish caricature of a mom, but Hardwick and the screenwriting team always steer the role toward authentic truths. I am glad the creative team sees the merit in having Kristen become a commanding force in the male-dominant mobster landscape.
The true secret to Mafia Mamma’s charming alchemy is star Toni Collette. Following her haunting work in 2018s’ Hereditary, Collette is finally receiving recognition as a captivating lead after years of working as a stalwart supporting player. She commands the screen with effortless ease as Kristen, displaying a vivacious comedic spark that consistently elevates the material. From supplying sharp one-liners to unearthing the character’s subdued angst, Collette showcases effervescent movie star magic in ways few actors can replicate.
Still, I can see the warts that many have taken issue with in Mafia Mamma. The film is technically wonky, often featuring cliche Italian music and janky edits as awkward glue for holding the narrative together. It also struggles at times to nail its high-wire tonal balance. Hardwicke’s banal visuals frequently clash with the material’s bold flourishes of violence and comedy, lacking the distinctive style necessary to exert exacting command over the material.
Mafia Mamma does not perfect its unique approach, but its spirited attempts are worth celebrating. The film cultivates a consistently compelling comedic experience bolstered by one of the industry’s best talents.
Mafia Mamma is now playing in theaters.