Film Review: The Family

robert-de-niro-and-michelle-pfeiffer-go-deadly-in-poster-the-family

Plot: A once powerful crime boss, Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) and his family have been living in witness protection for years after Giovanni betrays his mob counterparts. Now living in Normandy, France, Giovanni’s eccentric family tries to adapt to their new surroundings as key members of the mob continue to track down Giovanni’s whereabouts.

If there’s one word to describe The Family, it would be…awkward. This was a weird movie to sit through. It starts out okay, but a lot of the family interactions and the film’s shift from comedy to more tense drama in the third act just feels uncomfortable. While it’s entertaining at times, the screenplay and direction is an absolute mess, making the movie sort of unpleasant. What I hated most about this film though was the characterization of the two teenagers, and that’s where we have to begin.

So we have this former mafia family, which include patriarch Giovanni played by De Niro, the mother Maggie played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and the two teenagers, sixteen-year-old daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and fourteen-year-old son Warren (John D’Leo). The whole crux of the first act is watching every one of these characters act like an unstable mob boss in response to normal everyday situations that don’t go their way. This is all given away in the trailer. With the two kids in high school, you have Warren playing different cliques against each other while he makes a shit load of money. It’s pretty predictable, and what I hate most about this character is they go out of their way to show Warren acting more like he’s thirty than fourteen, and it’s just over the top to the point where he’s a joke. The actor is really laying it on thick. But that’s not even close to what they do with the daughter character.

Oh my goodness, where do I begin? In watching this movie, I can tell Dianna Agron might have some acting talent, but she is absolutely and utterly atrocious in this film. I don’t blame her though – the writers and director (Luc Besson) are at fault. There’s one scene where some douchebag guy tries to make a move on her, and she beats him senseless. The problem is this is supposed to be funny – Oh, it’s a little sixteen-year-old mafia daughter beating up the guy with a tennis racket, how cute. In some movies this could work, like a Kick-Ass for example. But here, there’s no clever set up, and it just comes off as uncomfortable. But the real offense is the dialogue. The character makes this big speech about treating women right, but the dialogue is so terrible, the delivery is so awkward, that this whole sequence just becomes a complete train wreck. This continues throughout the whole movie. Belle has a crush on this college student, and she acts and delivers lines that belong in a Twilight film, but she does it in this “I’m above the angst and smarter than you” type way making it feel out of place. Everything with this character starts out as comedic, but drifts slowly into full blown drama by the third act. I can’t even begin to describe what a mess this entire character was from beginning to end, and it’s something that basically derails the entire movie.

Let’s actually move onto the main protagonist, De Niro’s Giovanni. Much like all the other terrible movies De Niro’s been in the last ten years, he just looks bored. He sleep walks through this whole movie, and was probably the least interesting character in the whole thing. One of the biggest grievances this film makes, and it’s one of my all time movie pet peeves, is they actually have a scene where De Niro watches Goodfellas…ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Oh, isn’t that cute? It’s the actor playing a mob character, and he’s watching a movie about a mob character that the same actor also stars in…how clever! Scenes like this just make a mockery out of the actor. I can’t stand watching Robert De Niro, a man who’s given some of the most legendary performances in cinematic history, make a sideshow of himself. Ugh.

There are two elements in this film though that save it from being a complete waste of time. Tommy Lee Jones plays the agent who’s responsible for protecting Giovanni and his family, and him and De Niro do share some nice scenes together. The other character I did really like was the mom played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She easily gives the best performance, and her jokes are some of the better written material the film has to offer.

Aside from a lot of the character problems, the plot is just as much of a mess. The screenplay never really explains why Giovanni is in the witness protection program. They allude to this big event that took place, but never really got into it, and if they did, it was utterly confusing. I guess they give you enough information, but the movie is so poorly constructed, they make you think you’re going to get it all explained in flashbacks, but the flashbacks they provide are useless and add nothing to the plot.

Speaking of bad plot devices, other then the daughter character, the element I hated most about this film is how the evil mafia guys find out where the family is hiding out. This is some of the laziest writing I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t want to spoil it, but it basically stems from a random homework assignment the son has. It is the most vague and far-fetched plot device of all time. Not only is it terrible, but the explanation of how it all comes together is even worse. It takes a while to unfold, and I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched it play out.

In addition to all the big picture problems, there’s a plethora of little things that really got under my skin. Once again, we get the stereotype mafia guys with the dark suits and accents. Okay, can we finally end this stereotype in movies? And this was right in your face about it. The director also uses plenty of cheap tricks to emotionally manipulate the audience such as doing a close up of a wedding ring right as a character is about to enter a dangerous situation. Cut me a break.

The nicest thing I can say about this movie is that I was never bored, and despite what a mess the third act is, I still sort of cared about the fate of the characters. But everything about this screenplay and direction is just such a disaster, I left pretty pissed off. The tone is all over the place. And right after a dramatic climax, the movie tries to quickly shift back into lightheartedness, but it just doesn’t fit. While entertaining at times, this is lazy filmmaking pure and simple, and I cannot stress enough how awkward the teenager interactions were. The Family…another Robert De Niro movie you can skip.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10 (Bad)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.