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The Family Man back to product details

A more wonderful life
written by kiume June 4, 2005 - 3:15 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
The obvious precedent to The Family Man is It's a Wonderful Life--in some respects it's almost a remake--except that The Family Man is a much better movie. Admittedly, I've become Capra heretic of late. The two movies from which the term "Capraesque" evolved I now classify along with most Spielberg films. The first time you're wowed, but on subsequent viewings they only get creepier and creepier.

Ostensibly a "Christmas" movie, It's a Wonderful Life is a disturbing paean to the triumph of the group over the individual, and the blatant emotional manipulation of the individual for the "common good." It takes place in an alternate universe in which the absence of Jimmy Stewart rends the fabric of space and time and opens the Hell Mouth beneath the local Savings & Loan (oh, wait, that was a Buffy episode).

A strange message to be fashioned by a Republican like Capra, reportedly a "dogged Roosevelt hater" (like Clinton, maybe Roosevelt made conservatives go loopy).

The Family Man reverses the cause and effect in It's a Wonderful Life. We begin not with the saintly George Bailey, but with Mr. Potter. Nicolas Cage's hard-driving investment banker, though, is no Scrooge. He's not a bad bloke at all. As far as hard-driving investment bankers go, the world would be better off with more like him. What he is is a tad cocky, not prone to searching self-examination.

It is, in fact, a good deed that attracts the attention of his Clarence, Don Cheadle (who with only a few minutes on-screen anchors the entire movie). He wakes up the next morning to find himself living the life he would have had he not dumped Tea Leoni thirteen years earlier. Except that he still is that hard-driving investment banker, who can't accept that he's got two kids and a mortgage and an utterly prosaic life in the boring suburbs.

At a critical point juncture in this struggle, Cage's Jack Campbell desperately tells his wife that he must recreate his old life because New York "is the center of the universe." Of course, he discovers at length that it is not. Yet, oddly enough, that is the whole weird point of It's a Wonderful Life: George Baily rejoins the hive mind convinced that he is the center of the universe, who can send thousands to a watery grave by simply deciding to take a vacation.

Stewart's George Baily looks backwards to justify the present. Cage's Jack Campbell, on the other hand, chooses the possibility of a "wonderful life" with eyes wide open towards the future, the result of his efforts to reconcile the past and this alternate present, not: "If you don't come back we'll kill this cute kitten," or some perverse sense of self-abnegation.

In the blink of an eye, all of George Baily's dreams have evaporated into the ether, annihilated by the collective will of the rather incompetent taskmasters he serves. Jack Campbell's fate, in contrast, is both more humble and more hopeful. He looks forward fully conscious of what he lost during those thirteen might-have-been years. But we know Jack is the kind of guy who can get things done. And, you know, he's not a bad bloke at all.


(Average 5.22)
54 Votes
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