What’s the magic elixir for a middle-aged Caucasian woman hitting a midlife crisis? Go to Italy. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Tuscany or Naples, just go. Kristin (Toni Collette) finds herself in that crisis, a result of professional stagnation and personal (read: familial) changes with her husband, Paul (Tim Daish) and son, Domenick (Tommy Rodger). During this time of upheaval, she gets a call from someone named Bianca (Monica Bellucci), who regrets to inform her that her grandfather, Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello) has passed away in Italy. She’s demanded to come to the funeral, also in Italy. While hesitant, Kristen is encouraged to go by her lawyer friend, Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), and use the time for fun under the guise of a work expense report.

Kristin’s vacay is put indefinitely on hold, as she is thrown unexpectedly on her end right into a mafia war. Quickly, the truth is revealed to her by Bianca, Don Giuseppe’s high ranking associate. Her grandfather was a mafia Don, and his dying wish was for Kristin to assume the power of the Balbano family in the event of his demise. Totally out of her element both in country and responsibility, Kristin must learn on the fly how to lead a shady empire and maybe bring this family into a new century. All while trying to get some action with the cute Italian man, Lorenz0 (Giulio Corso).

Mafia Mamma is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, easily most well-known for her run in the 2000’s starting with Thirteen along with Lords of Dogtown and culminating by launching the force of nature that was Twilight in 2008. This movie seemingly finds the director at her most whimsical in her career. Functionally, her feature is classified as an “action-comedy,” but save for one scene of over-the-top violence (played concurrently for laughs), this could easily be a tame PG-13 with a few edits and cleaner language. If seeking something on that end to the level of, say, Spy, prepare for disappointment. Her biggest choice in this movie is setting up moments backed by the music of composer Alex Heffes to poke some fun at those mafia movies. Again, whimsical.

Based on a story authored by novelist Amanda Sthers and co-written by Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, Mafia Mamma is not in the business of telling a deep plot, and the few story twists are very telegraphed. But there is a little bit of heart and a general message in its fish-out-of-water tale centered around women’s empowerment. Whether in the office space, at the head of an organized crime family’s table, or in a marriage, all it takes (sometimes) is confidence to find a new, better you. To the credit of the writers and Hardwicke, after a rough 10-15 minutes of start time that might make one question if this is the right vehicle for Collette, their film settles into a good groove once its main character touches down in Italy.

It is rare that we see the ultra-talented Collette in a movie and role that is so comedically driven, and that first stretch of runtime whether poor scripting, delivery on the actress’ part, or (likely) a combination of the two might make someone wonder if she’s up for the task. No, she doesn’t deliver laughs every minute, but she plays most of it relatively straight and the natural evolution of her character, if somewhat rushed, allows for organic laughs. Mafia Mamma is also a story of sisterhood in a male-driven world, and to that end, it helps the movie immensely that Collette shares notable chemistry with Bellucci—a scene stealer here, and Nomvete, who is in the movie just enough to not be grating as occasionally comedy side characters can be.

It is kind of hilarious how much Mafia Mamma lifts from Eat Pray Love and Under the Tuscan Sun and plopping that (loosely) into the framework of The Godfather plot. To its credit, it makes total reference to this, which gives the movie a very self-aware aspect from the get-go and overall, makes it pretty palatable. It’s one of those films where midway through, the thought of “This is nothing special, but I’m having a fairly good time?!” comes into the mind. Prego!


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