The action comedy Mafia Mamma has a darkly wicked gleam in its eye from the opening, and thank goodness the movie never loses that sparkle as its lead transitions from fish out of water to shark.
A star of Toni Collette’s caliber would’ve kept things entertaining regardless, but Mafia Mamma is fully aware that a lack of originality is part of the point. We’ve seen this story before, but this time the novelty lies in the fact that the wronged wife is the one closing the door on the men even after she’s packing them trail mix for their trip. Just don’t ask about her business.
It’s obvious enough, and Mafia Mamma gleefully shouts out those most responsible for Kristin’s (Collette) journey to independence through violence. When she flies out to Italy for the funeral of the grandfather she never knew, she’s hoping for her own personal Eat Pray Love experience as she Diane Lane's it Under the Tuscan Sun.
Offers They Can't Refuse
When she arrives, she finds out her family has fingers in far more than wine, and as the most direct descendant of the patriarch, she’s expected to lead them in their war against a rival clan. And her relatives are not about to let their horror at the fact that Kristin hasn’t even seen the Godfather movies they constantly reference (Mafia Mamma itself makes liberal use of the iconic score at several points) stand in the way. Or her lack of interest in the position, or violence in general for that matter.
Part of the fun is how well the typical crime narrative suits the cliche of the middle-aged woman coming into her own, which Kristin herself knows she’s in desperate need of. Her son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) has recently left for college, she walked in on her man-child husband Paul (Tim Daish) having sex with a much younger woman, and the bros in the ad agency where she works dismiss her to the degree that she’s almost whacked during a Zoom meeting and they can’t be bothered to notice.
Yes, Mafia Mamma goes to some dark places as they pack on the riotous humor and cliches, where even mobsters invite their enemies to say hello to their little friend in a shootout. Collette shines as usual, flexing those comedic muscles as the center of an ongoing blood-soaked train wreck, first as the bewildered passenger, then the driver. As she narrowly avoids one assassination attempt after another and still makes time for a romantic connection, there’s at least one somewhat less familiar development in the platonic love story between Kristin and the family consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci).
Collette isn’t the only one throwing out reminders that she can more than carry her comedic weight, and Bellucci in fact almost steals the show as a loyal soldier and advisor who struts through the carnage of a battlefield and declares, “This means war,” with a completely straight face to an effect that is both hilarious and promising. As a trusted general, Bianca is the one who inspires Kristin to achieve her potential, as a person and an empowered businesswoman who could use her family’s wealth and power for good. In a time when sequels have prequels, spin-offs, and reboots, a movie that follows Bianca doing the real dirty work likely wouldn’t be unwelcome.
Because make no mistake, Mafia Mamma always remains a white woman’s fantasy. Kristin may get her hands dirty, but she still doesn’t have to sully them with the more gruesome parts of the business, which includes drugs and even more unsavory ventures. It’s still hilarious when Kristin brings muffins to a Mafia meeting, gets a makeover to meet the local crime bosses, and changes the Mob meeting place so she can eat good gelato, but there’s still little exploration of Kristin’s own mother and her decision to take her daughter to America in the hopes she no doubt harbored of her child escaping the cycle of violence which claimed the life of Kristin’s father.
It’s far easier to buy into the carnage, which is a kind of distinctly escapist fantasy in itself, one which women were traditionally barred from save as villains, victims, or sexless mother figures. But the time is right for a dark satire of gender and male entitlement, and Collette, Bellucci, and the supporting players are all in as they play on and twist various Italian Mafia stereotypes with gusto.
Mafia Mamma is also likely quite correct in that audiences will be less interested in a critique of how systems enable such brutality. At least the truly unsettling fact is in such plain sight that it’s the main point – how easily the suburban mom fantasy can devolve into bloodshed and how easily we all tolerate it.
Rating: 7/10 SPECS
Mafia Mamma plays in theaters April 14.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.