Mafia Mamma

Mafia Mamma is reminiscent of the big star/high concept comedies of the 1980s. I can imagine it being made circa ’84 with Goldie Hawn in the lead. That is pure compliment. We don’t get comedies like this very often anymore. We hardly get comedies at all, so concerned are the studios with turning out big action franchises. Getting an old-school, fish-out-of-water comedy of this variety is refreshing, especially when made with such energy and enthusiasm.

Kristen (Toni Collette) is not in a great place. A sexist boss callously disregards her suggestions. Her son has just left for college. Her husband Paul (Tim Daish) is cheating on her. Then she gets a phone call informing her that the Italian grandfather she barely knew has died. As his only surviving relative, she needs to go to Italy to settle his affairs. Kristen figures that a free trip to a beautiful country will help cure the malaise. If she can bed a handsome stranger while there, all the better.

Once in Italy, she’s taken to her grandfather’s massive estate, where his right-hand woman Bianca (Monica Belluci) drops the bombshell. Kristen’s grandfather may have technically been a winemaker, but he was really the head of a Mafia family – a family she must now take over. At first, it sounds simple. She just has to have dinner with another boss and make a peace agreement. That plan turns hilariously complicated, leaving Kristen in a position where she’s forced into more dealings with increasingly scarier people. This timid, insecure woman needs to locate a primal quality within if she wants to survive and get back home.

Mafia Mamma was directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) who, together with cinematographer Patrick Murguia, brings the Calabria region of Italy to life. That’s crucial, as it makes us feel how foreign both the country and the Mafia lifestyle are to Kristen. Hardwicke additionally hits a nice balance of violence and comedy. The requisite bloodshed is graphic enough to credibly sell the dangerous world Kristen has entered, yet also exaggerated enough to be funny rather than upsetting. The highlight is a riotous sequence where a rival family’s hitman attempts to kill Kristen as she’s on a Zoom call with her oblivious coworkers back in the States. Putting an ordinary person into this scenario provides myriad comedic opportunities, of which the story finds many.

The movie definitely contains a humorous portrayal of the Mafia. Kristen’s two bodyguards bicker wittily, and there’s a running gag about how mobsters spit on the floor in disgust whenever an enemy’s name is mentioned. Not everything lands. A courtroom scene during the climax is ludicrous, and a revelation regarding the local man Kristen keeps trying to sleep with is too convenient to be believable. Most of the time, though, Mafia Mamma finds legitimately amusing ways to take advantage of its concept.

It's always a treat to watch Toni Collette flex her comedy muscles. The smart decision she makes is to play Kristen’s dilemma straight, instead of trying to be overtly funny. Doing so makes her performance even funnier. Because the supporting players are on the wacky side, it would be overkill if Kristen was too. Collette gets that, finding the humor by realistically conveying the character’s anxiety, apprehension, and eventual empowerment.

The actress is a great component in a good movie. Mafia Mamma is lightweight, but briskly paced, with frequently sharp dialogue and lots of laughs. The mob hasn’t been this hysterical since Analyze This.

out of four

Mafia Mamma is rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.