Ghosts of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life haunt The Family Man, a 2000 comedy from director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour). Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) -- a wealthy, womanizing bachelor in Manhattan -- wakes up one Christmas morning to discover that he is a suburban tire salesman and is married to the woman (Téa Leoni) he dumped 13 years earlier to pursue his investment-banking career. This alternate reality comes complete with two kids and a dog, and the comic potential of the situation is milked to its fullest, as Cage stumbles unhappily through nuclear-family routines. Changing diapers, making breakfast, and walking the pooch are clearly the stuff of Jack's nightmares -- until the upside of his new situation gradually becomes apparent to him. With a straightforward premise and few plot twists, The Family Man relies on the strength of its lead actors. While Cage is certainly more than effective, it is Leoni who anchors the film with smarts and sexiness, as a woman still madly in love with her husband of more than a decade. Don Cheadle adds some spice as the ersatz angel who gives Campbell this "glimpse," and Jeremy Piven is solidly cast as Campbell's suburban bowling buddy and best friend. For all those who've wondered what their lives would have been like if they had taken that other fork in the road, The Family Man is likely to kindle a few daydreams.
A mishmash of earlier and better-thought-out holiday fables, The Family Man is redeemed by the warm, emotional performances of leads Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. Embodying elements of every great Christmas story, from Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol to It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the film wanders through "message film" territory with considerable charm and humor but without much focus or precision. Subplots involving the blue-collar job of main character Jack Campbell, his relationship to his boss/father-in-law (Harve Presnell), and a possible extramarital affair are set up then hastily abandoned. Troubling too is the script's repeated assertion that a loving, committed marriage with children is too at odds with career success for both to be enjoyed simultaneously. The Family Man seems to want especially badly to make a grand statement about the struggle to balance family and work, but its conclusion seems to be that one must always be sacrificed for the other, not a particularly cogent or sagacious argument. Director Brett Ratner has much greater success with his cast, drawing top-notch work particularly from Cage, an actor prone to explore bizarre character tics and personality nuances when left too much to his own devices, but who delivers a surprisingly sympathetic and heartfelt performance here. Leoni rounds out her big-screen resume with a tender, compassionate role that is a welcome contrast to the cool, austere career woman she portrayed in her most recent film, Deep Impact (1998).
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