Film Review: Mafia Mamma | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 31st, 2023  

Mafia Mamma

Studio: Bleecker Street
Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Apr 13, 2023 Web Exclusive
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There is a scene mid-way through Mafia Mamma that I cannot seem to get out of my head. On the grounds of a sprawling Roman estate, Kristen (Toni Collette, trying) and Bianca (Monica Belucci, present) caress each other in a luxurious canopy bed, engaged in rather charged pillow talk about Kristen’s estranged grandfather, the deceased head of an Italian crime family. Bianca wishes to impress upon Kristen that despite her assumptions of his identity as a mob boss, he was in fact a good man. Sensing her skepticism, she straddles Kristen and makes her case: “He bought me this,” she coos, curling her fingers into a fist and tapping the side of her exposed leg, which makes a peculiar metallic sound. Yes, it is a fake leg, we are to understand.

And with that clank of Monica Belucci’s leg, my eyes opened anew, and the last vestiges of hope I had for Mafia Mamma slipped away. Suddenly I wondered– why was this California King, fully furnished in fine linens, outside on a lawn? Why were these women– two characters who have not and will not be romantically involved at any point in this film– suddenly cuddling and mounting each other? And what does a prosthetic leg have to do with anything? And just what in Romulus-and-Remus-suckling-a-she-wolf’s-teat is going on here?

The setup for Mafia Mamma is at once absurd and tired: Kristen, a people-pleasing pushover, leads a miserable existence being over-looked at her advertising job and passed-over by her husband for their son’s twenty-something guidance counselor. Just as this affair comes to light, she receives a call that her grandfather has passed away in Italy and her attendance is required for the reading of the will. Once abroad, she is informed by her grandfather’s trusted consigliere Bianca that– you guessed it– she is now the head of a crime family. It happens! What follows is a standard fish-out-of-water comedy in which Kristen’s new mob cohorts are at first exasperated by her (their jaws drop in unison upon learning she has never seen The Godfather), but eventually come to see her charms. And yes, perhaps Kristen, too, comes to see things in herself she didn’t know were there.

Reader, there is hardly anyone who would be more thrilled to see a female-led and directed mid-budget comedy succeed at the theaters in this age of superheroes and streamers more than myself, and it breaks my heart to report that Mafia Mamma is a humorless, incoherent failure. Director Catherine Hardwicke struggles to balance the demands of this tonally-scattered script– at times a comedy of manners, at others a gross-out sex romp, and at others still, a bracingly violent shocker a la Edgar Wright’s early films (a scene in which a hit man decides instead to sexually assault Kristen and ends up stabbed to death in the groin and eye by her stiletto is not, if you can believe it, a barrel of laughs). The film’s feminist lean feels woefully superficial, and the aforementioned gesturing towards a sexual spark between Kristen and Bianca is a non-starter.

One has to give credit to the always outstanding Toni Collette, though, who turns in a committed, lively performance, managing to wring a few chuckles out of the proceedings. The same cannot be said for the supporting cast, particularly Belucci, perhaps preoccupied with the home renovations this appearance will afford her. There are also men in this film, but it really doesn’t matter. Cinematographer Patrick Murguia is undoubtedly working with a limited budget, but still, this is a drab, uninspired picture. All these things are forgivable, though– the illogical premise, the by-the-numbers plotting, the workman-like photography, the wildly shifting tones– if the jokes are there, and the bottom line is that Mafia Mamma is simply not funny.


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