Mafia Mamma – Film Review

In Italy, a long-held Mafia rivalry erupts into a bloody shoot-out during a peaceful sit down. In the wake of the carnage the Dons of both the Balbano and the Romano crime families lay amongst the dead. Don Giuseppe Balbano’s (Alessandro Bressanello) consigliere, the sultry Bianca (Monica Bellucci) knows in her heart this means war. She must seek out Balbano’s chosen heir, his granddaughter.

Thousands of kilometres away in America, Kristen (Toni Collette) is a woman whose life is in shambles. With empty nest syndrome as her son leaves for college, she catches her good for nothing manchild husband Paul (Tim Daish) cheating. She is unappreciated at work, looked down upon as a woman and is going nowhere fast.

Through a serendipitous phone call from Bianca, Kristen takes this opportunity to vacation in Italy for her grandfather’s funeral. Soon though she is informed she is in the middle of a turf war and as the new Don, it’s her problem to clean it up. This is to the chagrin of Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), Giuseppe’s hot-headed great grandnephew who wants the gig. Kristen defies all expectations as mob boss when all she really wanted wasn’t so much an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ vacation as much as an ‘Eat, Pray, Fuck’ one.

When I first heard of Mafia Mamma’s concept, I admit I was excited to see it. The trailers reminded me a lot of silly high concept comedies from the 90s and early 2000s which we sadly don’t see too much of these days. Director Catherine Hardwicke’s involvement, along with a Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci team up, and an MA rating, only served to stoke my interest in this film’s potential.

Potential, I’m sad to say, is squandered in one of 2023’s first true cinema misfires. Mafia Mamma is an excruciatingly simple movie failing to live up to even the low bar set by similar comedies such as King Ralph or Corky Romano. My above synopsis of the film is as complex as things get, with no attempts made to subvert or add any spice to the fish out of water formula.

Worse too is just how flat, tired, and lacking in creativity the humour of Mafia Mamma feels. There are some funny moments to be had, largely coming from Toni Collette’s comedic timing. But that ‘Eat, Pray, Fuck’ joke, the film repeats multiple times is an example of the level of wit one can expect from the screenplay by J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon

A running gag which has some mileage is the mafia world’s disbelief in Kristen never having watched The Godfather. Ironic, as I kept getting the same vibe about the writers themselves. Whether it be The Godfather, Sopranos, Gomorrah, or any of the wide assortment of their parodies, much of Mafia Mamma feels like stale jokes done 100 times before. 

I think the film’s greatest sin is wasting the pair-up of Collette and Bellucci. At times, there are hints of what could have been with Collette the foil to Bellucci’s ‘straight man’. I kept waiting for something in the narrative to explain why recruiting an American housewife to be a Mafia Don sounded like a good idea, whether it be a twist or big reveal, but nothing ever came. The film is as one level as it gets, which leads to massive tonal inconsistencies. It is at times needlessly violent but not in an over-the-top funny way. More an off-putting torture porn way which led to a few audience members leaving during my screening.

Mafia Mamma is a total farcical comedy which then undeservedly sees itself as inspiring. The story of a woman doing what men tell her she can’t is indeed a positive one. But Mafia Mamma betrays itself by being so ridiculous with the scenarios Kristen finds herself in. It is then so serious in her achievement of overcoming them, that it appears to be satirising the very idea of empowerment to begin with.

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