At the very latest since It’s a wonderful life, Hollywood has regularly played with the idea of allowing the lead character to see what would have happened if he hadn’t either taken the road he did or in case of the aforementioned not even existed.
I tend to like that type of movie, and The Family Man promised to be all that. I love Téa Leoni’s part … I love Téa Leoni, period. As an avid Fleetwood Mac listener, I liked the movie title the moment I first heard/saw it. I also, as unpopular as it may be to admit, liked Nicholas Cage in 8mm. I do adore that poster, this picture of Nicholas wistfully looking through a store window at the one thing he really wants, a family live. It’s heartbreaking, it touches on something deep within me. It shouts Christmas movie at the top of it’s lungs.
Maybe with all that my expectations where set too high to begin with: As Hollywood convention has it fame and fortune man Nicholas meets an Angel that is willing to fulfil him a wish, and so Nick finds himself gone over night from unhappy, leading a empty life, Bank Broker (or some such) to unhappy, overstressed, family father. Because, you see, our Nick never stopped to wonder what his life could have been had he married his love: Téa Leoni. And honestly people, who wouldn’t want to wake up married to Téa, even if we ended up with the one from Spanglish? Our Nick, however, finds out that this Nick is unhappy over never having it made to fame and fortune, and now feels trapped in his marriage. This wouldn’t be Hollywood if he didn’t find out that family life is indeed not one of the minor circles of hell, usually at least, even though he sure begins to think so. But here already the script starts to falter, because married Nick isn’t a pleasant person and beyond being unhappy over the course his life took this Nick is also about to cheat on his wife. So suddenly we should sympathize with a Nick that finds this new life so constraining that he’d rather cheat on sweet, adorable Téa who’s the heart and soul of the family? Nah, not likely going to happen. So Nick naturally changes his habits and he does learn something: He realizes that there’s more needed for a partnership than just love, it takes hard work and dedication, and a willingness to compromise. Soon as he learned that lesson he finds himself back in his old, empty live. And here’s the catch, this being a Christmas movie it can’t end thus, so the writer lets Nick meet perchance a older Téa that unhindered by marriage or children made her own way to fame and fortune and we are expected to rejoice for them because now they can become a smug yuppie couple…
My blood was boiling when I saw this long anticipated movie in perfect expectation of a Christmas romance. Instead I got a wooden acting Nicholas Cage that I found to be hardly loveable (even before he wanted to cheat on Téa) in a movie that runs out of actual story about half way through, and to add insult to injury there’s this Hollywood bloke, probably living thousands of miles away, that dares to tell me that I wasted my live on my family, and they theirs on me, and that on Christmas of all days. I’m actually still furious about this movie. And yet, I still love that poster beyond reason and would fall for the same trap again if they where to show it now, I just can’t make out for whom they made that movie*? Probably those millions of rich, unmarried yuppies that flock to the cinemas each Christmas? Given, if you look at the poster it actually shows one of those typical staged Christmas pictures that no one wants to look at anymore after a while, and that should probably tip us off to what Family Man really is about. And if it wasn’t for that forced happy end that lets Nicholas both eat his cake and keep it, telling us others that we are doing something wrong, I could probably live with that. As usual the Japanese offer a beautiful, more subtle alternative approach. Not as fitting to the typical American style of storytelling, but a perfect picture to illustrate the nature of a loving relationship.
"When someone doesn't show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident. Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don't--and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying that they too contain the unknown."— Rebecca Solnit