Despite Clear Feminist Intentions, “Mafia Mamma” Never Quite Gels

“Watching women take on a male dominated genre is greatly satisfying, but, unfortunately, the script itself is one hundred percent Hollywood formula.

Guest Post by Angela Stern

Toni Collette can do anything. If that wasn’t official before, it certainly is now with the release of the new Cornerstone Film’s comedy Mafia Mamma. From the sheepishly neurotic vegan with suicidal ideations in About A Boy (2002) all the way to the beloved murdered wife in The Staircase (2022), Toni has a uniquely captivating charm.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke—best-known for Thirteen (2003), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Twilight (2008)—Mafia Mamma tells the story of a suburban housewife who inherits her grandfather’s place at the head of a powerful Italian Mafia family.

After sending her only son off to college, and then finding her husband in an unfortunate position with another women, Kristin Balbano (Toni Collette) receives a phone call informing her that her grandfather has passed, and she must come to Italy for the funeral. With no prior knowledge of her grandfather’s ties to organized crime, she arrives in Italy looking for a fun adventure to forget the stress of her life.

What Kristin finds is chaos and a whole lot of crime.

Catherine Harwicke is certainly a gifted director who isn’t afraid to play with the boys. Mafia Mamma is phenomenally gory, with some spot on odes to the entire Mafia genre. The running joke that Kristin has never seen Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film The Godfather provides some amusement. Every Italian around her is critically offended by her lack of knowledge of this cinematic masterpiece.

In some ways, Mafia Mamma is a strongly Feminist film in which the women kick far more ass than the men who seek to control them. Catherine Harwicke does the best she can to make a statement, and Toni Collette is wonderfully funny and genuine.

…some of the violence is wince worthy…

Unfortunately, the script itself is one hundred percent Hollywood formula, even given the Feminist twist. Mafia Mamma has all the predictable “feel good” elements, blended with absurdly broad comedy and a Friday the Thirteenth kind of carnage. Alas, it falls just a little short of fully engaging, and some of the violence is wince worthy. The bevy of archetypes are all portrayed by competent actors (Monica Belluici, Sophia Nomvete, etc), but none of them are ever afforded an opportunity to become fully three-dimensional characters. And while some of the jokes brought a smile to my face, I don’t remember any that actually elicited a laugh.

Watching women take on a male dominated genre is greatly satisfying. The opportunity to make a film with these kinds of elements is long overdue. However, if Mafia Mamma proves anything, it is that taking “script to screen” depends enormously on the strength of the script. In this case, the script—written by Debbie Jhoon & J Michael Feldman, based on a story by Amanda Sthers—failed to hold up its end of the bargain.

© Angela Stern (4/14/23)—Special for FF2 Media®


Available in theatres & also streaming on Amazon Prime. Click here for more streaming options on the Just Watch site.

Visit the Mafia Mamma IMDb page for complete cast & crew information.

Learn more about Catherine Hardwicke’s controversial career on Wikipedia.


Featured Photo: Toni Collette as “Kristin” playing tourist in Italy.

Bottom Photo: Monica Belluici as “Bianca” teaches Kristin a new Who’s Who.

Images © Bleecker Street 2022

Tags: Amanda Sthers, Angela Stern, Catherine Harwicke, Debbie Jhoon, Italy, Mafia Mamma (2023), Monica Belluici, The Godfather Saga, toni collette

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