When we first meet protagonist Kristin Balbano (Toni Collette) in sunny California and she is crying. “Fucking college,” she says. Her son Domenick (Tommy Rodger) is all grown-up and ready to embark on life’s next big adventure. Kristin’s husband, Paul (Tim Daish), is a man-child in an insignificant band who makes everything about himself. At the same time, she is an empathetic and vivacious people-pleaser who does everything for everyone else and nothing for herself. Appearing here in a blue shirt and a suit the colour of a council flat wall, Kristin isn’t appreciated in her job at a pharmaceutical advertising firm either, where misogynistic men rule the office.
Just when Kristin needs a significant change in her life, she gets an unexpected call from Bianca (Monica Bellucci), a woman she’s never met, who tells her that her grandfather, Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), has died. She needs to come to Italy to settle his affairs. That’s when she, after coming home from work early, walks in on her husband fucking another woman. But can she really go to Rome? Doesn’t she need to work on her marriage? Her best friend Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), a lawyer, doesn’t seem to think so. “What do you masturbate to?” she asks Kristin while the pair are at a self-defence class for women. “Italian cooking shows. I mean, more specifically, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” Italy, the place where she was born, has been calling to her all her life, and she is more than ready for her Eat, Pray, Love experience.
Desperate to eat, pray, and fuck her way through Italy after her grandfather’s funeral, Kristin faces some complications when she discovers that the family wine business is actually a front for organised crime, and her grandfather has posthumously requested that she, his only grandchild, become the new boss of the Balbano family—much to the dismay of Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta), her second cousin. With the help of Aldo and Dante (Francesco Mastroianni and Alfonso Perugini), the two bodyguards assigned to protect her, and Bianca as her consigliere, Kristin must deal with the immediate longstanding rivalry and the threat of the Romano family and quickly dodge assassination attempts—though she really just wants to fuck Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), a gorgeous Italian man she met at the airport in a classic meet-cute.
Mafia Mamma has a strong feminist theme which the script explores through realistic experiences women have with men, continuing even during the more unrealistic mafia situations. The film dives into the female anger that frequently rises in women but is kept trapped just below the surface. Ignored and taken for granted in her work and home life, Kristin initially feels inept for life as a mob boss—but thanks to her wild, passionate, fiery rage and Bianca’s warm but firm guardian angelship, Kristin gains more confidence and her undervalued skills become assets. There’s no rivalry between the two women either; Bianca is Kristin’s biggest cheerleader, and watching their friendship bloom is beautiful. Kristin’s transformation is also aided in style by costume designer Claudette Lilly, who takes Kristin from a suburban librarian to a bad-ass mafia boss. Not to mention, Collette delivers a superb performance with a lot of heart, humour, and relatability.
The rest of the cast are excellent to watch, too. Bellucci portrays Bianca with warmth, patience, and kindness that makes you trust her and just enough strength and mystery to know that she comes from violence and knows how to handle herself. There’s also more to Aldo and Dante than just being bodyguards. They have different styles and sizes but great chemistry, which creates a fun juxtaposition. We see their personalities shine through subtleties masterfully delivered by Mastroianni and Perugini. Corso is all charm but has enough restraint to tell us that Lorenzo is hiding something. Anyone who plays a bad guy does so really well, particularly Giuseppe Zeno as Carlo Romano. Zeno balancing the charming and sexy seduction of Kristin while concealing his ulterior motives from her, but not the audience, creates a thrilling and palpable tension.
Mafia Mamma is funny, with various funny moments, including a mafia bodyguard who enjoyed the book Eat, Pray, Love, and the iconic part shown in the trailer where Bianca says they need someone empathetic with Kristin responding with, “Did you just call me pathetic?” There are plenty more that aren’t worth spoiling, though. As expected, there are plenty of references to The Godfather and Goodfellas, but you don’t need to see them to enjoy Mafia Mamma. Many of us are familiar with enough crime tropes to understand the film’s parodying language. Plus, Kristin doesn’t get the references because she’s never seen the movie, which bridges a further relatability for audience members who haven’t either. The film, however, does pay homage to these iconic crime films and Italian culture in general through the score (composed by Alex Heffes) and various multiple cues.
Catherine Hardwicke, known chiefly for Twilight and Thirteen, delivers great direction that suits the script’s journey—the story of which was created by experienced writer Amanda Sthers, who serves as the film’s producer but was written by Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon. Mafia Mamma is an enjoyable romp with familiar twists and turns but is light on mafia politics. The deepest knowledge is that it’s a battle of territories. Many women have seen and loved The Godfather franchise, but Mafia Mamma isn’t like that—it draws from comedy, romance, crime, and action genres doused in the feminine perspective. Still, its focus is having fun exploring what would happen if a people-pleasing Suburban mother suddenly inherited the top position in her mafia family. It’s a real fish-out-of-water story. Mafia Mamma is a light mob movie made by women for women.
Bleecker Street will release Mafia Mamma in US cinemas on 14th April. The UK release date has yet to be set.
by Toni Stanger
Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Films, Reviews, Women Film-makers
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