Sometimes, the best way to find out who you are is to… join an unground crime family?
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Mafia Mamma tells the story of Kristin (Toni Colette), an American mother who is crushed when she discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. Distraught and heartbroken, she travels to Italy to visit her family. However, she soon discovers that her recently deceased grandfather has left her in charge of his mafia empire. Led by her trusted consigliere (Monica Belluci), Kristin must navigate her new role as criminal kingpin while still staying true to her own beliefs.
Throughout her career, Hardwicke has made a name for herself by way of multiple genres. Having risen to fame with the fantasy young adult series, Twilight, she has also found success in other styles, from the gripping Miss Bala to the rom-com Miss You Already (which, incidentally, also starred Toni Collette). With Mafia Mamma, Hardwicke returns to comedy in a raucous affair that borders on over-the-top parody. This is a comedy that clearly has a love for mob movies but mocks their tropes in the process. ‘Family’ conversations, attempted murders and power struggles are all embedded within Mamma yet are played with a wink at the audience. (Even Brando’s classic The Godfather is held in reverence, both by the film’s characters and visual homages. (If you’re familiar with the film, keep an eye out for the oranges.)
Much of the film’s success is credited to Colette, who plays her character with gleeful silliness. As a jilted wife and mother who’s thrown in over her head with the mafia, Colette understands the assignment. In many ways, this is a ‘fish out of water’ comedy and Colette bounces around onscreen enthusiastically. However, as her character becomes more acclimatized to her surroundings, her performance becomes more even-keeled. After a while, this ‘mamma’ begins to discover her inner ‘mafia’… and Colette begins to show her inner strength.
However, the true star of the film may be its Italian setting. With an eye for Roman architecture and history, Mamma works hard to honour the culture in which it is rooted. Every landmark and icon is met with a certain level of reverence. In doing so, Hardwicke ensures that Italy is portrayed authentically and with adoration. (“TripAdvisor doesn’t lie,” Kristin swoons.)
However, at its heart, Mafia Mamma is ultimately a film about female empowerment. Rarely listened to or appreciated, Kristin is a woman who is held under the thumb of the toxic men in her life. Mocked by her boss for not “understanding women“, her journey to Italy feels like an opportunity for a new life. Nevertheless, she finds very little reprieve in the male-dominated mafia. (After all, surely a woman such as Kristin could never be as successful a leader as the men that surround her.)
However, upon her journey of self-discovery, Kristin also discovers a newfound strength within her new role. Given the opportunity to rise to power, she begins to seize the opportunity, showing her male enemies what it truly means to lead effectively. Kristin‘s vision of mafia strength is vastly different of her male counterparts, proving that power need not necessarily remain toxic.
“Just because you’re a mafia boss, it doesn’t mean you have to be a bad person,” we’re told.
Therein lies the charm of this light-hearted romp. Beyond the conversations about gender, the strength of Kristin’s character begins to reshape an empire even in the midst of the most violent of criminal syndicates. (Whether or not that bodes well for her reign is another question entirely.) As a result, in moments like these, there’s something unique about this Mafia Mamma that helps it hit the target in the end. Although the film doesn’t necessarily come out with guns blazing, Colette’s charm and Hardwicke’s affectionate tone show enough strength to finish the job.
Mafia Mamma is available in theatres on Friday, April 14th, 2023.