We’re heading up to the year 2000 for day three of the Cage marathon and The Family Man. This was a film I knew very little about before seeing it, only that it was the third film from Brett Ratner, before everyone seemed to decide that he was a terrible director.
The lack of knowledge on my part became quite apparent when, as I began watching The Family Man, it appeared to be a Christmas film (it begins on Christmas eve), and indeed a fantasy one. In fact it’s quite similar to Peggy Sue Got Married in several ways, and features 2 singing scenes from Cage.
The film begins with a flashback to 1987, as Jack Campbell (Cage) is bidding farewell to his girlfriend Kate (Téa Leoni) and about to board a flight to London for a year. She asks him to stay with her, but he doesn’t. Years later, he’s a very successful, wealthy Wall Street executive, living a luxurious bachelor lifestyle in New York City. He has an important meeting on Christmas Day but that’s not of concern to him as he doesn’t have any family to speak of, something he apparently doesn’t care much about. He is surprised to learn that Kate, who he hasn’t heard from in years, had tried to call him earlier in the day, but before he calls her back he witnesses a hold-up in a convenience store. After intervening, it turns out the criminal (Ratner regular Don Cheadle) is actually some sort of supernatural entity. Jack goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, and when he awakens, he’s in an alternate universe.
Of course the film is greatly indebted to It’s a Wonderful Life (with a bit of A Christmas Carol), but it seems somehow appropriate for Cage to be playing the lead as he’s always bared a vocal similarity to James Stewart. No prizes for guessing what’s different in this new timeline; it’s where he didn’t go to London. He now finds he’s married to Kate, has two kids, a dog, works for his father-in-law as a tire salesman and lives in (shudder) New Jersey.
Cage just gets one brief scene to go a bit nuts over his new situation before Cheadle turns up to explain it all to him. From there it gives us the predictable scenes in which he has to adapt to where he is now, first confused and wanting out, then having trouble with his new family, then gradually coming to enjoy it. It chucks in a few less expected subplots – like a friend of theirs being keen to start an affair with Jack – but they’re never the primary focus.
The film does appear to, perhaps unintentionally, be endorsing a rather dubious message, that Jack could either have a family or a job he likes. OK there’s a little truth to this, he might not have risen quite as far as he did on Wall Street in his ‘real’ timeline but he could surely have done something better than spending his whole adult life working his way up his father-in-law’s sales business? It even compounds this point when Jack tries to secure a better job in the alternate timeline only to have Kate shoot him down over it.
Really though, I think the filmmakers’ focus was more on the romantic side of the story, that Jack slowly realises that he always loved Kate and regrets letting her go, unfortunately that results in a typical race to the airport followed by public exclamation of emotions once Jack is returned to the real world.
The Family Man maintains a pleasant tone throughout that only once veers into the lowbrow (when Cage is urinated upon by a child). It dispenses with the Christmas theme quite early on which may have weakened it chances of becoming a holiday regular, and worse films than this have become fixtures of the season. Cage himself makes a charmingly effective romantic lead here, much like Peggy Sue Got Married. It’s sentimental and predictable but hard to truly dislike.