Mafia Mamma (2023) – Film Review
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Toni Colette, Monica Belluci, Sophia Nomvete
By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe
Mafia Mamma opens to a scene of a beautiful fountain against a musical backdrop of elaborate string music and passionate trumpets, where a woman in black stilettos carefully threads her way through the carnage of blood-spattered corpses and squashed tomatoes. She looks at a man in the distance who is holding a gun, she spits on the floor, and mouths, “This means war”. The title of the film is scrawled across the screen in the same font as The Godfather, should we need any further prompt as to the parody that awaits us.
The scene then changes to America, where a quiet, meek mum Kristin (Toni Colette) is weeping as her only son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) leaves for college. As he is driven away, she goes to her workplace – a pharmaceutical company that is male-orientated. She has a pitch for a drug that could be far-reaching in cancer care, but her misogynistic colleagues dismiss her ideas, preferring to discuss products that will promote male pleasure, in a conversation that is disrespectful of women.
Kristin knows that she will never be appreciated in that working atmosphere and leaves disillusioned and crushed. She returns home to find her husband Paul (Tim Daish) is cheating on her. It’s not been a good day, but it’s about to get worse. She gets a phone call from a stranger, who turns out to be Bianca (Monica Belluci), the woman with the black stilettos, to tell her that the paternal grandfather she never knew has died and has left instructions that she must settle his affairs.
“It’s not funny, it’s not clever”
Kristin was born in Italy, originally had the surname Balbano, but her father died whilst she was a child, her mother took her to live in America, and she has never been back to The Olde Country. After talking with her best friend Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), she decides she will go to Italy for the funeral, treating herself to a small holiday, to see the sights and give her space to review her life and future, emulating the Elizabeth Gilbert novel Eat, Pray, Love.
When she is met off the plane by two Soldatos, discovers that her grandfather was a mafia boss, that her father was murdered, and that ‘settling affairs’ means inheriting her grandfather’s headship of ‘The Invisible Family’, and that the Italian man she has fallen in love with is an undercover policeman, things get very complicated. She longs for la dolce vita, but she’s caught up in a mob war where she doesn’t speak the language or understand the tactics and must quickly learn to assert herself.
It’s an interesting idea, that written in a different way, could have had potential, but scriptwriters Michael J Feldman, Debbie Jhoon, and Catherine Hardwicke (who also directs) have strung together comic gags that link blood, gore, as many killings as can be crammed in, dismembered body parts, poisoned wines and plates of pasta with as much use of the F-word, crudeness and insult as they can muster. It’s not funny, it’s not clever, and it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, entertaining. Toni Colette has talent and has shown that talent in some very funny movies, but her involvement in this is not one of her finer moments.
It’s violent, gratuitous, and vulgar. And all it portrayed to me is that the fight for women’s equality with men still has a very long way to go.
Mafia Mamma is available on digital platforms