Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Mafia Mamma’ Brings Blood, Tropes, and Laughs

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Some people will find a litany of things to hate about Mafia Mamma. These are people who, sadly, either through awful taste or sticks up their asses, hate fun. I pity these poor unfortunate souls.

These fools can sit before Catherine Hardwicke’s latest and sneer. They will not see the beauty of Monica Belluci vamping it up, running in heels, and giving everyone a smoldering “I can kill you where you stand” look. Nor can they gaze upon Toni Collette giving a fully realized performance for a movie that only needed a character sketch and gape in awe at the sheer talent on display. To these unwashed masses, the beauty of Collette’s Kristin bonding with the woman sleeping with her husband while kicking her out in justified rage will sail over their dull little heads.

mafia mamma
Left to right: Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni), Kristin (Toni Collette), Bianca (Monica Bellucci) and Dante (Alfonso Perugini)

Admittedly Mafia Mamma is a horrible title for Hardwicke’s comedy about a suburban housewife who suddenly finds herself inheriting an Italian mafia. It should have been called Mamma Mia, but sadly there’s already a movie with that title. Though, studios should note that movies that go out with a killer Cher cover are infinitely better than those that do not. 

But back to Mafia Mamma, a movie that revels in low stakes with a dollop of violence and topped with a spritz of trashiness. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon’s script has a flirty, kindhearted horniness. Kristin hasn’t had sex in three years, and after catching her husband, Paul (Tim Daish), having sex with their son’s high school guidance counselor, she’s beginning to think she’s the only one.

Hardwicke, her writers, and the cast understand that, more than anything, Mafia Mamma is a lark. In Hardwicke’s hands, the movie never strains as it glides effortlessly from one absurd plot contrivance to another. If there is a fault with Mafia Mamma, it is that Bellucci’s Bianca, the Balbano Family’s First Lieutenant, feels underused. However, I’m aware that she could be in every frame, and I would still find myself demanding more scenes of her.

Collette brings her trademark intensity to Kristin but, here, reminds us of her deft comedic timing. Her strained grin, and anxious hand wringing, as she deals with the constant belittling by her husband or male co-workers make her violent eruption against a mafia hitman all the more terrifying and hilarious. However, she brings the mousey push-over housewife to life in such an empathic way that even if the movie weren’t funny, it would be worth seeing for her performance alone. 

Belluci’s Bianca is the laconic comedic counterweight to Collette’s tightly wound spring. She is an outrageous caricature that wields her sensuality like an uzi, cunning yet understanding she is the Balbano’s secret weapon. It seems she lost a leg as a child, and the former Don bought her a state-of-the-art artificial leg, and she has been loyal to the family ever since. 

Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni) and Dante (Alfonso Perugini), a classic Laurel & Hardy duo, as Kristin’s mafioso bodyguards, help keep things sweetly absurd. Like the ways, Dante can make any situation awkward simply by trying too hard to be of service. This is balanced by Aldo’s attempt to be menacing, but his sweetheart nature sabotages him at every turn. Mafia Mamma is a broad comedy more interested in broads with prominent…personalities.

Patrick Murguia’s camera leans on the picturesque postcard beauty of the Italian countryside. But he also takes the time to luxuriate in the simple pleasures of watching Bianaca spoon Kristin. Murguia doesn’t leer, though there is one scene in which we see Collette adjust her breasts in dress, the frame filled with Collette’s cleavage. But this doesn’t come off as leering as much as Hardwicke and Murguia showing a woman trying to make herself sexy before sitting down to discuss business. 

mafia mamma
Kristin (Collette) and Bianca (Bellucci) go to a funeral

The horniness in Mafia Mamma has a sweet-natured exuberance about it, as Kristin is a woman on a mission. She’s desperately trying to end her three-year draught while finding validation in a man. But, of course, eventually, she realizes her problem is confusing the two. 

Kristin soon begins to legitimatize the mafia by changing their wine front into an actual business while also swapping drug smuggling, gun running, and prostitution for smuggling American pharmaceuticals denied by the SSN. It’s hard for me to hate a movie that understands the far-reaching horrors of our corrupt and broken healthcare system. Soon, the bumbling Kristin has turned the Balbano family into a legitimate power to be reckoned with, on and off the books.

Hardwicke gives Mafia Mamma a deft but light touch so that even a cringe trope like the loud, boisterous Black best friend, while overplayed, has a finesse to it. Sophia Nomvete plays Jenny as loud and over the top but also a true friend to Kristin. Nomvete and Collette have what you might call “movie friend energy,” which is that type of friendship that isn’t that fleshed out but works enough for the script’s purposes.

Happily, Feldman and Jhoon’s script doesn’t have Kristin dumping Jenny once she leaves the country. Instead, after accidentally killing a rival mob boss in a seduction gone awry, she calls Jenny, a lawyer, to see if she’s broken the law. “He tried to kill me,” Kristin tells her. Jenny’s question, “With his penis,” is one of the outstanding line deliveries in the movie. 

The violence is brutal because it’s meant to be; Kristin isn’t used to it. One scene has her killing her would-be rapist while on a Zoom meeting with her crass and sexist co-workers. They’ve muted her to ogle the photos of the models for a sex drug for men ad. Meanwhile, Kristin fights off her attacker, using her heels as an effective and macabre weapon.

It is a scene I mention because how Hardwicke and Murguia stage it is darkly hilarious. The pent-up rage that Kristin, indeed all women, feel at times comes in handy when one finds themself thrust into the head of an organized crime family.

Mafia Mamma is a giggle-fest that slyly comments on how violence is commonplace for men but rare for women in terms of who wields it. The underlying joke is not that Kristin is ill-equipped to be a mob boss but that she is ideally suited because, as a woman, she understands the humiliation of violence on a deeper level. Yes, it is a comedy, but the smile is strained.

Images courtesy of Bleecker Street

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