Credit: Bleecker Street
by Steven Warner Featured Film Genre Views

Mafia Mamma — Catherine Hardwicke

April 14, 2023

High-concept comedy Mafia Mamma comes courtesy of Catherine Hardwicke, a director who never met a potentially interesting premise she couldn’t sabotage with her bland visual aesthetic and seeming indifference to the material at hand. In only one instance has this actually worked to Hardwicke’s advantage, where the marriage of who-gives-a-fuck filmmaking and absolutely bonkers source material resulted in the modern-day camp classic Twilight. Otherwise, audiences have been treated to the likes of Red Riding Hood and Lords of Dogtown, cures for insomnia if ever ones existed. Presenting itself as an edgy, modern-day tale of female empowerment, Mafia Mamma instead comes across as a woefully misbegotten comedy seemingly sprung from the early 1990s, a film so beholden to tropes and cliches that it threatens to teeter into full-on parody at any given moment. 

Toni Collette — one would ask how she got involved in this mess, but this is her second film with Hardwicke, so respect the loyalty — stars as Kristin, a middle-aged mom and recent empty-nester who is constantly belittled by her male colleagues at work and left sexless at home by her man-child of a husband, Paul (Tim Daish). The recent death of her grandfather, coupled with the sudden discovery of her husband’s infidelities, leads Kristin to travel to Italy for the upcoming funeral, where best friend Jenny insists she get her “Eat, Pray, Fuck” on — yes, this is the level of humor we are dealing with in this comedy dead zone, the script courtesy of J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon. As Kristin soon discovers, her grandfather was actually head of the Balbanos Mafia family, who are currently in the middle of a mob war with their sworn enemies. As the only blood relative still alive, she has been summoned by trusted consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci) to take over the family business. The thing is, this woman has never even seen The Godfather. What a mess! 

It isn’t long before Kristin is both threatened and shot at, but she decides to stick around, because she met this hot guy at the airport named Lorenzo (Giulio Corso). She also proves to be quite adept at this whole killing thing, in ways both intentional and unintentional. What’s strange is that, in most respects, Mafia Mamma seems squarely aimed at middle-aged women and octogenarians, but then there’s the amount of violence on display, which is quite alarming considering. One might even call it ridiculously over the top, and given that at one point Kristin stabs a man repeatedly in the crotch with a Stiletto heel before ripping out his eyeball, there’s a strong argument. Kristin is also quite savvy in the ways of business, ultimately using the Mafia’s connections to provide medicine for the poor and indigent, as well as overhauling the family’s pathetic wine business. Somehow all of this ends in both a trial and a climactic action scene set in a factory with lots of grinding machinery, where participants slink around steel catwalks — again, that this doesn’t scan as parody or satire is a most remarkable achievement. 

Collette is committed for the most part, but every once in a while, you catch a vacancy in her eyes that hints at the guest bedroom she’s undoubtedly imagining with the resulting paycheck. Elsewhere, the soundtrack mostly operates as a greatest hits package of ‘50s and ‘60s Italian pop hits, until Kristin suddenly starts standing up for herself, at which point we’re treated to 21st century girl power anthems. That choice is a tidy reflection of the film’s overall tiredness, from the filmmaking to the belabored setup, which quite literally has the audacity to have a character state out loud that it’s like, “The Godfather meets Under the Tuscan Sun.” While that idea might be lightly clever in theory, it’s clear that at no point did anyone involved in this project stop to consider who exactly it was made for, and the final product bears that sad reality out. Mafia Movie is one movie that can… sleep with the fishes.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 15.