Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Lately, legendary actor Robert De Niro has been starring in a string of forgettable movies (‘Killing Season’, ‘Freelancers’, ‘The Big Wedding’) which all failed to make much of an impression, let alone a dent at the box office.
The only exception was his supporting role as the father figure in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor this year.
That is why it is most welcoming to see him return to form and to box-office glory in this well-written and well-executed action comedy directed by Luc Besson.
‘We’re A Nice Normal Family’ is dark and wickedly fun, offering plenty of satirical digs at the mafia mob and dysfunctional family dynamics, along with endless debates on the cultural differences between the Americans and the French.
The movie is based on the novel titled ‘Malavita’, although the Singapore release is given a touch of irony when it is renamed ‘We’re A Nice Normal Family’.
When you really get to meet the Manzonis, the central family in this movie, you will find that they are far from normal.
De Niro plays ex-mafia boss Giovanni, who is relocated to a small sleepy town in Normandy, France under a witness protection programme.
Tagging along with him are his wife Maggie (the still-smoking-hot Michelle Pfeiffer), their beautiful and young seductress daughter Belle (Dianna Agron from TV’s ‘Glee’) and prodigal son Warren (John D’leo).
While Giovanni tries to find some form of redemption for his past and start writing his personal memoirs, the rest of his family settle in quickly into their new lives within the community, trying hard to resist their old mafia urges of dealing with problems – a deadly mixture of brute force and persuasive charm that you can’t refuse.
Trouble ensues in the small French town when their former mafia cronies from the US goes looking for them to settle more than just a few old scores.
IN JOKES ON SCORSESE AND ‘GOODFELLAS’
There are plenty of references for movie fans to spot, such as the sudden and excessive violence in a family dinner scene that is reminiscent of the ‘Godfather’ movies, and an ingenious montage scene of how a high-school magazine tagline can travel all the way from the South of France to a jail cell in America.
One of the funniest scenes in the movie happens when De Niro’s Giovanni and his no-nonsense minder from the FBI, played by Tommy Lee Jones, unwittingly attend a private film screening, only to find out that they are watching Martin Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’.
When invited on stage to critique the film, Giovanni couldn’t resist giving an all-out tell-all on how the mafia underworld works in reference to ‘Goodfellas’.
Martin Scorsese, who directed ‘Goodfellas’, also serves as executive producer of ‘We’re A Nice Normal Family’.
A self-professed fan of the mafia genre and the cult classic films by Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, French writer-director Luc Besson managed to pay tribute and build on the source material with several subversive new ideas, while balancing the dark satirical humour with a lot of love and heart for his characters.
The movie may have a fun and comedic tone, but all the characters in the family are dealing with some very real issues – a mother’s wavering faith in God, a daughter’s experience of first love and sexuality, a student trying to fit in a new school environment, and the father’s existentialist crisis.
The rest of the cast turn in strong and memorable performances, but a special note goes out to the forever-stunning Michelle Pfeifer who plays the tough mother holding the family together with a dose of vulnerability.
This comedy drama delivers the goods in an old-fashioned way with solid acting, clever writing and quick-paced editing without resorting to needless special effects spectacle or dumbed-down plotlines.