Family Man, The

The Family Man, written by David Diamond and David Weissman and
directed by Brett Ratner, is an attempt at a reverse
It’s a Wonderful
for the Christmases of the new millennium. Jack Campbell (Nicholas
Cage) is a high-flying Wall Street whiz kid and swinging bachelor whose angel
(played by Don Cheadle) lets him see not how much poorer the world would have
been without his life but how much richer it would have been if he had chosen to
live it differently. This would be an inherently more banal sort of treatment
of the theme, even if it were not wedded to the spirituality of the gym. This
offers its audience a warm, self-congratulatory glow that never quite takes its
eye off the self-enhancement and self-actualization that wife and kids and
community are supposed to bring to look clearly at the proper valuation of the
wife and kids and community themselves. Jack Campbell is still the center of
Jack Campbell’s universe, whether
he’s the hard-charging tycoon or the
family man.

Thus, what the film strives for, or at least achieves, is not so much the
bourgeois uplift of
It’s a Wonderful
as the yuppie fantasy of Sliding Doors or Me, Myself and
. It is also a parable of the male mid-life crisis, just as those movies
were of the female equivalent. When Jack the mergers and acquisitions specialist
from the Upper West Side wakes up to find himself transformed to Jack the tire
salesman from New Jersey, married to his college sweetheart (Tea Leoni), working
for his father-in-law and himself the father of two kids, his dismay is clearly
intended to make our flesh creep:
“Why, God? Because you thought I was
cocky, I’m now in this permanent asset
trap?” Poor mergers and acquisitions
specialist! Doesn’t your heart just go
out to him? This is the problem with the film. It is hard to feel too much
sympathy for a guy who sees it (at first, anyway) as a disaster to live only as
well or better than most of those in his audience.

Even this serious drawback to the film might not have been insurmountable if
it hadn’t been for the fact that the
filmmakers just can’t resist giving
Jack back his Wall Street principality as well as the wife and kids. Or
at least the opportunity to have it. One day a Wall Street colleague from
Jack’s other life happens to be
driving through New Jersey when his Rolls Royce gets a flat tire. Next thing you
know the impressive young tire salesman is back on his way to the top. The film
is also, therefore, a tribute to the fantasy that deep inside any given tire
salesman there is a Wall Street tycoon of the first rank who just got a bad
break or two. Implicitly, the film accepts the shallow, materialistic view of
success that explicitly it rejects. The alternative for Jack is not, as it was
for George Bailey, mere self-fulfilment. Self-fulfilment of a vocational or
professional sort is scarcely imaginable apart from riches on an almost Gatesean

For while the text puts family above money, the subtext gives the prize to
the money— because it takes the money as the norm from which family is
just a sort of experimental deviation, even if claims to find the experiment
successful. The good solution is obviously and always to have it all. As,
indeed, why should one not when marriage is so far ideal as to involve the
delectable Kate, Miss Leoni’s
character? Even a mergers and acquisitions specialist, let alone a tire
salesman, might forsake his tom-catting if it meant being married to her. The
kids, too, are adorable, and it is hard to escape the sense that the
film’s endorsement of family values is
contingent on their all being so Christmas-card perfect.

The marriage, too, is a yuppie ideal. Kate works as a public interest lawyer,
and Jack is expected to take a perfectly equal share in the domestic and
child-rearing duties that his new status entails. In this respect, the film goes
for the double, for the female as well as the male fantasy, as the untamed
tycoon (or would-be tycoon) is thoroughly domesticated. So perfect a husband is
he, in fact, that Kate rather thinks she
doesn’t want him to take the Wall
Street job. The Manhattan co-op and private school for the kiddies would be
nice, of course, but it might be easier to keep Jack changing diapers and
chauffeuring the kids to school and day-care if he remains a tire salesman.

Don’t worry, though. Mr
Cheadle’s angel and the weird
supernatural stuff put in another appearance at the end to make sure (we feel
confident) that New Jersey will remain the dream and
Manhattan—with the addition of Kate
(but not kids), neatly extracted from the other
life—the reality.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts