Mafia Mamma

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Two thirds good, one third bad, as George Orwell almost said, Mafia Mamma is a comedy about a timid, emotionally giving American mother who becomes a mafia don, a donna in fact, after her grandfather in the old country dies in gang-related circumstances and she takes over the firm.

Not that Kristin (Toni Collette) understands any of that. As far as she’s concerned the old guy was a winemaker and at the point where she is heading off to Italy to attend his funeral, it’s as much to get some “Eat. Pray. Fuck.” as to pay her respects. The fact that she’s just caught her husband banging her son’s counsellor in the kitchen has undoubtedly had a hand in forming her decision.

So, off she goes to Roma, where she’s met at the airport by two guys in dark clothes and shades, her escort, and is chatted up by an improbably handsome Italian man, who seems very keen to get her phone number. It’s only after the funeral, which ends in a non-traditional gun battle that Kristin discovers the true nature of the dead old man’s business, and that he’s named her as his successor, to the sound of many noses being put out of joint.

From here a fish out of water comedy featuring Kristin blundering through, pratfalling her way out of danger, and rising out of all expectation to become a formidable, if klutzy, mafia boss. By her side, the old guy’s consigliere and now her right-hand-woman Bianca (Monica Bellucci), who has no designs on bossdom herself since she’s not family and the scowling Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetto), who does because he is.

Kristin and her mafia family
Kristin and her new family

This is very much the film that needs to be accepted in the spirit in which it’s offered – as a light, flyaway, broad comedy relying on its audience’s knowledge of the full complement of Italian stereotypes – so many hot Latin, pasta-loving, mamma-worshipping guys (not so many hot women – target demographic identified). And if you’re old and have watched too many movies then director Catherine Hardwicke’s occasional riffing on Italian comedies of the 1960s – the sort that saw the likes of Marcello Mastroianni getting into marital scrapes – comes as decoration on the cake, as does the soundtrack, which frequently breaks into jaunty popular songs of the period.

There’s an amusing running joke about The Godfather – Kristin has never seen it but everyone in her new mafia family regularly refers to some scene or other – and Mafia Mamma is genuinely funny, warm and enjoyable for the first two thirds. The concept (by Amanda Sthers, crazy name) is sturdy enough to be loaded up with gags, by J Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, who have written together on a bunch of TV comedies (Kevin from Work, Not Dead Yet), which explains the set-up/pay-off rhythms.

Collette spins like a dervish to keep the comedy energy high, counterpointed by Bellucci, an imposing figure in black whose character turns out to have a prosthetic leg, which somehow humanises Bianca and helps fold Bellucci – who is let’s face it weird casting in a comedy – into the action.

The big arc – Kristin turns the mafia into an organisation with an ESG (ethical, sustainable, green) agenda, is probably the funniest joke of the lot, if intentional – and seems designed to boil the piss of the usual bloviators. But then they’ll already be railing at the female empowerment thing and may have no piss left to boil.

Now if only it had paused before its mad dash into the big finale, where the comedy is parked and everything suddenly gets a bit more serious, and the film takes the equivalent of a big line of cocaine, the way Italian comedies of the 1960s often did before they went hell-for-leather into out-and-out farce. If only. Never mind, you’ll have had your fun.

Mafia Mamma – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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