Two women stand in barrels, preparing to partake in the traditional way of wine-making

Film Review: Mafia Mamma

Film Reviews

Mafia Mama
Director: Catherine Hardwicke 

Idea(L) and Vocab Films
In Theaters: 04.14

If you get involved with organized crime, you’d better know what you’re doing. This may be why Mafia Mamma was a project that director Catherine Hardwicke couldn’t refuse: She can’t seem to resist an opportunity to remind us that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. 

Toni Collette stars as Kristin, a wife and mother facing a midlife crisis as her son Dominick (Tommy Rodger, Shadow and Bone) heads off for college. Shortly after,  she catches her husband, Paul (Tim Daish, The Evil Inside), cheating on her. To top it all off, Kristin gets an unexpected phone call from a woman named Bianca (Monicia Belluci), who reveals that Kristin’s grandfather, Giuseppe Balbano, has passed away and she must attend his funeral in southern Italy. 

Despite initial hesitation, Kristin hops on a plane and learns that her grandfather wasn’t really a winemaker: He was Don Balbano, the head of a powerful crime family. As his last living descendant, Kristin is next in the line of succession. She doesn’t want the job, though Bianca, the family’s consigliere, isn’t prepared to give up on the old man,’s wishes and sets out to prove to Kristin that her entire mundane life has been building to her true destiny.

Mafia Mamma desperately wants to come off as a female empowerment film, yet the women in the movie are portrayed as needy, bitter, horny and clueless in their best moments. Hardwicke never seems to know whether she’s going for light and cutesy or relentlessly crass and brutally violent. A sequence based around a hitman trying to rape the female lead before he kills her can’t be played as zany physical comedy when done by the strongest director, let alone the one who gave us Red Riding Hood. Even the “joke” of Kristin taking off her shoe and using her stiletto heel to skewer his testicles and his eyes repeatedly somehow just isn’t the giggle-inducing moment it’s meant to be. 

Mafia Mamma is also bogged down with more one-dimensional Italian stereotypes than a Chef Boyardee commercial starring the Super Mario Brothers and Father Guido Sarducci, including an insipid sequence of Kristin and Bianca stomping grapes with their bare feet. The best recurring joke has people balking at Kristin never having seen The Godfather. If Hardwicke herself actually saw the film, she learned nothing from it and she brings no authentic flavor to this barely reheated Olive Garden leftover. On the plus side, she can at least identify with her protagonist: If Kristin is a fish out of water, her director is Jar Jar Binks. 

Collette gives it her all, and Belucci seems game to show that she can be funny, if the wretched script would only give her a chance. The rest of the cast ranges from adequate to cringe inducing, with Eduardo Scarpetta (Carasello Coronsone) being particularly all over the place as Kristin’s resentful cousin Fabrizio. As long as he’s yelling, Scarpetta is fine. If he’s not yelling, his self-conscious performance is almost embarrassing. Sophia Nomvete (Wednesday) tries to pull something workable out of Jenny, an underwritten and over-directed, stock, sassy best friend character; the ultimate failure can’t be blamed on her.

Hardwicke has fallen far from her auspicious beginnings with Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, and at this point it would be difficult to make a case for her as a strong candidate to direct traffic on a one way street in a residential area. As an admirer of Collette who desperately wants to like anything she’s in, Mafia Mamma hurt my enthusiasm for her work going forward. Considering that Colette served as a producer, I feel as if she owes me a refund of the full ticket price for Mafia Mamma, and I watched it at home for free.

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