The Family: Amusing, But Forgettable

It is an unfortunate numbers game in movie trailers that every so often you will come across advertisements for a movie that looks very clever, funny, or awesome, only to go see it in the theater months later and find out most of the good stuff was used up in the trailer, or misrepresented in the first place. While it proved a decently entertaining watch, I found The Family, starring Robert De Niro, to be such a movie, setting high expectations with some really funny trailers but having difficulty following through with the rest of the movie.

The Family follows the story of Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), a former mafia man in Witness Protection after turning informant, with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their children Warren (John D’Leo) and Belle (Dianna Agron). Posing as “the Blake family”, the family is moved around France by the humorless CIA Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), settling in Normandy at the beginning of the movie. The majority of the film derives from the comedy of the “Blakes” trying to fit in and failing spectacularly as old habits betray them; Giovanni privately works on his memoirs while trying to figure out who exactly is to blame for the water to his house turning brown (restraining himself with tremendous difficulty, and sometimes failing, from brutalizing the many people who give him a hard time along the way), Maggie tries to join the local church and pick up groceries but can’t help but blow up the store when the staff make fun of her for asking for peanut butter, and Warren and Belle turn the “new kid on school” dynamic on its head, Warren being bullied on his first day only to completely warp the school’s power structure on the second to get some payback and Belle balancing her crush on the young math teacher with her tendency to beat the crap out of her fellow students when they cross her.

The film’s trailers set up the idea of the men Giovanni betrayed getting wind of his whereabouts and coming after him only to get more than they bargained for, and that is indeed in the movie, but it’s somewhat off-putting that a lot of the violence in this movie is mostly the Blakes delivering extremely disproportionate responses to ordinary French people who annoy them in one way or another. This can still provide some laughs for being unexpected or seeing Giovanni imagining such a scene only to snap out of it a moment later and politely finish the conversation, but a lot of the comedy in The Family mostly comes from your ability to find sudden and violent overreaction to everyday annoyances humorous, and as such I didn’t really find the movie as funny as I’d been expecting.

While the story and the laughs didn’t really carry me as far as I’d been expecting with the film, I will give The Family props for its acting; De Niro, as usual, is great fun to watch, and some of the best parts of the movie are him narrating in his memoirs that he doesn’t consider himself such a bad guy on the whole (juxtaposed with scenes of his old routine as a mobster) and the scenes of him and Tommy Lee Jones snarking at one another. I felt all of the actors performed quite well with the roles they got, and while I didn’t find the movie as funny as I’d hoped, I will freely admit pretty much everyone in it made me laugh at least once, which is a nice accomplishment.

On the whole, The Family is an amusing enough watch, but not a must-see in theaters or a movie I’d rush to buy on DVD. I’d recommend it as a “wait for Netflix” movie, rented for a night you just want to sit back and enjoy some violent comedy.

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