The Family Man (review)
The Virtues of Poverty *wink*
You finally get to sleep on Christmas Eve just before dawn, because you’ve been up all night wrapping the presents you’ve maxed out your Visa buying for the kids. You didn’t have time to do the wrapping earlier because you and your husband have both been working a lot of overtime. The gifts looked kinda meager under the tree, and you know the kids will be a little disappointed that there’s no PlayStation 2 there. But they’re good kids — they know that the hottest new toys are just not in the family budget. Besides, a little deprivation never hurt anyone, right? It teaches the kids something, too, doesn’t it? Keeps ’em from getting spoiled.
You wake up on Christmas morning, shocked to discover that you are suddenly an absurdly overpaid Hollywood studio executive. The family is nowhere to be found, but there’s a hunky Oscar winner still snoring away in your bed, and somehow you get the feeling he’s not there every boring morning. Whoopee! Freedom!
You enjoy the life for a while, and you love the money you’re rolling in. But hey, it’s not all fun and games — it’s hard work and long hours, and you’ve earned those millions, dammit. Still… the memories of your former life linger, and you start to feel a little guilty, living a life of such excess at a time when everyone’s supposed to be rich — if you believe CNNfn — and yet you know the numbers only look good because ordinary working people are working two and three jobs, sometimes. Is there a way to salve your conscience while still keeping the mansion in Beverly Hills and the flat in Paris and the private jet and the two dozen Prada handbags?
And then you hit on it. You’ll produce a movie about how the humdrum lives of quiet desperation that the vast majority of people live aren’t really so bad after all. It’s not like it isn’t true — you do kinda miss your three-year-old daughter’s giggles, after all, and the smell of baking cookies. It’ll be a real feel-good movie celebrating the joys — honestly, there are some! — of ticky-tacky suburbia. And it’ll be a Christmas movie! Yeah! Christmas is good for making people feel all warm and gooey. And it’ll steal the good stuff from those other favorite Christmas movies about the virtues of living small and being generous, A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life — though, of course, you’ll call it an homage.
Sure, it’ll be slick and formulaic and critics will even call it tedious and overlong, but audiences will eat it up. How could they not? It’ll just confirm things they’re longing to hear, like that Teaneck, New Jersey, isn’t such a bad place to live… it may not be glamorous Manhattan, but it’s home.
You’ll have to get somebody pretty big for the lead — someone who can be convincing both as a shark and a family man. Someone like Nic. Yeah. Nicolas Cage (Gone in 60 Seconds, Bringing Out the Dead) could be… oh, Jack Campbell — that’s a nice, ordinary-sounding name. And he should be in Wall Street high finance, something that’s mysterious to most people anyway, so it’ll be easy to convince them that investment bankers are scum. But Jack can’t be too nasty, or audiences won’t like him. So, out of the kindness of his heart, he’ll interrupt a convenience store robbery on Christmas Eve — Christmas Eve! *snicker* It’ll be snowing! (Even though that rarely happens in New York at Christmastime.) — and that will garner the attention of an angel or something (Don Cheadle: Mission to Mars, Out of Sight), who’ll grant him the wish he doesn’t even know he wants: to see how his life might have been if he’d married his college sweetheart.
(Remember this for the project memo: The convenience store robbery will invoke Regarding Henry, that pathetic movie in which rich asshole Harrison Ford had to get shot in the head in order to become a nice person. And Nic won’t even have to get shot!)
The wife… she’ll have to be believable as a suburban mom, but not too realistic. After all, you know what you used to look like when you woke up in the mornings, in your former life, and you don’t want to scare anyone. So, a down-to-earth glamorous Hollywood actress like… Téa! Perfect. Téa Leoni (Deep Impact, Flirting with Disaster) just did the motherhood thing, so she’ll love this! Ah, the joys of domesticity!
So, Jack, in his fantasy or dream or whatever it is, will convince everyone he’s going through a midlife crisis or something with his constant insistence that he doesn’t actually belong in a world of minivans and slobbering dogs and quick, quiet sex that won’t wake the kids up. And the audience will totally buy into his attitude adjustment, because what Jack is saying is exactly what the audience is feeling: This is not the life I wanted. Sure, it’ll be pop pabulum — but isn’t that what people want? No one wants to think too hard at the movies, anyway.
Oh, it’ll be great! You’ll throw in a pwecious wittle giwl with an adorable lisp, and some Christmas magic in the form of, oh, Jack staring up at falling snow while twinkly ah-ah choral music plays on soundtrack. And you’ll call it The Family Man, so that anyone who says anything negative about the movie will just look like a real Grinch. “Got issues with your family, do you, Mr. Hoity-Toity Critic?”
You finish the project memo just before you fall asleep… And then you’re back home again. And when you ask your husband, “Hon, hon, what day is it?” he reminds you that it’s still Christmas, and those Visa bills will still be due at the end of January.