‘The Family’: Black comedy with heart

thefamilyThere are few movies that can successfully capture the heart of family drama. The characters in these movies are almost always cliched, the plots are usually pretty predictable, and the humor (if any) often has to resort to potty humor and fart jokes, going for the lowest common denominator.

But “The Family” takes the genre a step into the right direction. It understands that family life can be more dramatic or funny than what the movies let on. It proves the “dysfunctional family” trope doesn’t always have to be a tired cliche, and, like life itself, has lots of those little moments that make the whole experience that much more fulfilling.

Oh, and the mafia’s involved, too. What’s not to like?

Mob boss Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro, “Silver Linings Playbook”) is on the run from a dangerous gangster who he snitched on prior to the events of the film. He and his family, with the help of Witness Relocation agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”), retreat to the village of Normandy, France, and assume new identities.

The film mostly follows Giovanni’s family as they try to adjust to life in the new neighborhood. Needless to say, the family’s mafia lifestyle isn’t exactly helping them blend in.

The cast delivers on all fronts, with performances that span an incredible range of tone. Every character, from the mobsters to the family themselves, meshes with each other perfectly. Robert DeNiro’s performance is particularly likable, as he tries to get used to his new life while his past won’t let him.

To be clear, though, this film is primarily a comedy, and a deliciously black one at that. No member of the family has qualms with using violence or mafia tactics to get their way. Even the kids have grown some teeth and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Scenes like these help establish the characters and flesh them out incredibly well.

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Unfortunately, the tone isn’t quite as solid as the characters are. It fluctuates rapidly between drama and comedy without realizing that the two can work together. It’s as unstable as some of the characters are, and a lot of important scenes lose their luster when juxtaposed with something radically different in tone.

While that issue is pressing, it doesn’t stop this film from being an incredibly good time. It’s good to see a film that can simultaneously have a wildly dark sense of humor and a likable heart. It does have some issues with tone and pacing, but it’s still worthy of a recommendation.

Film: “The Family”
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2013
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones
Rating: 4/5