When we hear the term “mafia” we think hulking characters the likes of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano or Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone or even jumping into reality to envision Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Rarely do we conjure the image of a woman and never do we think about the likes of Toni Collette’s Kristin in “Mafia Mamma.” The gender flipping idea gives both the actors and the director a wide-open new road to travel creating a flippant, gruesome yet hilarious take on the mob world as we know it.
The film is based on Amanda Sthers’ story about a frustrated mother and wife living a dull and unappreciated existence only to send her son off to college and discover her hubby has had a few extracurricular activities. Coincidentally, Kristin is “invited” to her long-lost Italian vintner grandfather’s funeral in Italy. Taking a break from the reality of life just might be what she needs, but what she finds in a quaint Italian countryside is something much more sinister and demanding than she ever knew could exist.
Kristin is nothing short of mousy and lacks confidence in everything she does. Her husband and his lover take full advantage of her caring nature while best friend and self-defense class partner Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) pushes Kristin out of the box. Looking for love in Italy — she has read and seen “Eat, Pray, Love” although there’s a substitute word for “love” — Kristin meets her estranged family, the Balbanos, with by Bianca (Monica Bellucci) calling the shots. The two women have an immediate connection, but Kristin isn’t quite understanding that the “wine business” isn’t actually what they advertise.
Of course, when any head of an organization steps down (or is murdered), the throne is up for grabs. With plenty of family members vying for that seat along with competitive organizations hell-bent on getting rid of Kristin and taking over the Balbano’s territory, Kristin has to be a quick study or she will end up six feet under.
“Mafia Mamma” is in some ways a coming of age movie. Every mom and wife starts a new chapter of their lives around this time as they become empty nesters and look forward to what lies ahead. Kristin is no different and she taps into the family roots she never knew existed. She’s a Balbano and this blood runs through her veins, but she’s also her mother’s daughter and the mixture gives her a perfect balance in which to become a new version of herself. Of course, there’s a price to pay, particularly if you dare to cross her path maliciously. Her inadvertent reactions give us some rather brutally violent yet somehow still rather comedic situations that endear us more to her. And amidst all the chaos and turmoil, not only is there a sweet love story, but Kristin remains true to who she is at the core…a mom.
“Mafia Mamma” is downright fun escapism that gives us a balanced story adding just the right touch of comedy, drama, action, craziness, and somehow blends gore and humor together as well. Collette has a blast in this role — you can see it in her eyes — as her character dramatically and naturally morphs into who she is meant to be. Rarely does this actress get an opportunity to show us her comedic prowess until recently with the 2019 “Knives Out” and now this film. Her timing is impeccable with a command of all 43 facial muscles to give us a seemingly countless array of expressions. Together with Bellucci, a powerhouse herself, the pair give feminism a place at the cinematic lead table. And if you’re male, you may take issue with the way most (or perhaps all) of the male characters are portrayed, but I, personally had fun with that aspect as well.
A mob film wouldn’t be complete unless it was filmed in the heart of Italy amidst vineyards and “Mafia Mamma” takes full advantage of this as well. Pour a glass of wine, sit back, and enjoy the far-fetched antics in this coming of age film for a middle-aged woman entering her prime.