Hey Mambo, ‘Mafia Mamma’ Is a Funny Twist on the Mob Movie Mentality
When you hear there’s a Catherine Hardwicke movie that features Toni Collette as a mafia boss, you probably think to yourself, “That’s odd, but sure?” and what you’re gifted is a funny twist on the mob movie that keeps you laughing throughout. And that’s what makes Mafia Mamma such a fun movie to watch. Collette plays Kristin, a woman living in the United States who is aware of her family’s connection to Italy, but not the nature of the family business.
So when Kristin is forced to go to Italy after the death of her grandfather, she quickly realizes that the “wine” empire they had was just a front for their criminal enterprise. And she just had to show up right in the middle of a deadly war between the mafia families.
While movies that tie to the mafia can often become a caricature of life in Italy and Italian families as a whole, Mafia Mamma toes the line between making a commentary on the mafia and having fun with Kristin as a fish out of water. Her approach to the family business is to … well, actually make it a family business.
But before she can, Kristin has to figure out what it means to be the Donna of a crime family. Sure, on the one hand this plays into stereotypes, but at the same time, out of all of the mafia movies that have been created throughout the years, this is the one that feels the least offensive. It’s just genuinely fun and sweet because Kristin is so lost in the midst of it all.
She sort of stumbles through navigating not knowing her family, learning about her father and his death, and the reason she was in America in the first place.
Reconnecting with your roots
The film starts with Kristin witnessing her husband Paul (Tim Daish) cheating on her after their son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) goes off to college. She is convinced by her friend Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) to go to Italy after Kristin gets the news that a grandfather (whom she never knew) has passed away. And that set-up—the innocent life Kristin led with her dead-end job and the downfall of her family before she goes on her great Italian adventure—is a great set-up to many comedies. But it’s the added elements of Kristin’s family that really make Mafia Mamma just a good comedy to dive into.
As someone who has roots in Italy but never really knew anyone outside of my grandfather and his siblings (because they’d passed away by the time I was born), I loved Kristin sort of being lost in a country that could have been her home. Because I’ve been there. You know that your ancestors were there, but you’re so Americanized and they can smell it on you.
And for the most part, that’s what happens with Kristin. She goes to Italy, doesn’t speak the language, is mocked, and feels lost in this new life she’s been thrown into. But Kristin tries to appreciate it and understand where her family came from, and that’s what makes this more than just another mafia movie.
Finding yourself, no matter the cost
At the start of the movie, Kristin is a disaster. Then she meets Bianca (Monica Bellucci) and the allure of this Italian life starts to draw her in. In the midst of the murder and the fighting between families, Kristin is trying to get her life back into some kind of order. It’s like a bloody Eat, Pray, Love. (Which the movie does make fun of along the way.)
Part of the allure of Mafia Mamma, for me at least, is that it is led by women. Women are behind the scenes, they’re in front of the camera, and they are giving their all into every aspect of this. And it is such a unique take on the mob movie that we haven’t seen before. We’ve got your Goodfellas, or even comedies like Analyze This that play with genre a bit more in their mafia storytelling, but nothing like this.
Mafia Mamma is, at its core, a comedy about a woman finding herself after leaving her husband. She just also happens to now be the head of a mafia crime family. Mafia Mamma hits theaters on April 14.
(featured image: Bleecker Street)
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