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The Family Man (2000) star star

Reviewed 2001-08-29
: This was a modern-day rip-off of the 1946 Capra film It's a Wonderful Life (which I hated). The tale is told ineptly but sweetly: Jack Campbell, a fast-lane investment broker (Nicholas Cage), offered the Second Look Reviewopportunity by a small-time hood (Don Cheadle) to see how his life might have been if he had made different choices, wakes up one morning to find that his sports car and girlfriend have become a mini-van and wife (Téa Leoni; not a bad substitute!).

The message to the viewer is this: being an alpha-male, wealthy and successful is wrong. I'm not saying that the alternative of being a family man is a bad life choice, exactly, but we find no evidence that Cage's character is unhappy with his life as it is/was. I guess we're supposed to assume that he couldn't possibly be happy, having all that money and success, and so on. Jack wasn't a bad person to begin with, either, so he's not like Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." His character is not on the verge of suicide because he's suffered a reversal of fortune, either, so The Family Man differs from the Frank Capra film in that respect. He was, however, driven to succeed, so he couldn't possibly be an accidental hero like, say Forrest Gump.

I'd love to see a reversal in this genre of feel-good movie. Let's have the family man see the high life he could have had, without the dog, the kids, the plain-looking, dependent wife, the boring neighborhood, the warm-hearted but unexciting friends... but we'll never get to see that, will we? It doesn't fit the Hollywood stereotype. What the film is unconsciously saying is that it takes talent to live the high life, but anyone can be a family man! (This is not meant as a criticism of the life chosen by anyone else. I won't gainsay anyone's chosen happiness.)

In The Family Man, we do get to see something that's becoming a trend of modern movies incorporating a supernatural element: the black character shows the way to a better world for the white character -- as we saw in The Legend of Bagger Vance (Will Smith) and Ghost (Whoopi Goldberg). I didn't dislike The Family Man -- Téa Leoni is very easy on the eyes and Nick Cage is in top form as an actor -- but I found the message distressing.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.