Comedies built around a woman taking a vacation from her life remains a reliable subgenre of filmmakers. These stories absorb tropes in other genres, like the fish-out-of-water, and turn it into an exciting new tale. With hits like Mamma Mia, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Eat, Pray, Love, studios continue to build classics to this day. However, despite an excellent performance from Toni Collette, Mafia Mamma leans a bit too hard into the zaniness. While this makes for a few good bits, Mafia Mamma falls into the company of other mediocre studio comedies.
After the death of her grandfather, Kristin (Collette) gets a call to travel to Italy to inherit his vineyard. Just before she leaves, her son heads to college, and she discovers her husband cheats on her. With a renewed purpose to chase a new life, she hopes her trip allows her to change her life. In a way, her wishes come true. However, as the new Don over a crime family, her life hangs in the balance.
Collette never takes a scene off, committing to the bit at every turn. For an actress who can turn up the intensity at a moment’s notice, she disappears into the naive life of a suburban mother. She radiates empathy for others and makes you believe she genuinely cares for the well-being of those she meets along the way. Her high-wire act becomes a necessity for the comedy of Mafia Mamma to work, and Collette lands many jokes that have no business working.
However, whenever she leaves the screen, Mafia Mamma flounders. The comedy becomes too broad, too ridiculous, and appeals to the lowest common denominator. Jokes about women baking, dudes bro-ing out, or people having not seen The Godfather feel like low-hanging fruit. Add in trope-soaked side characters, like an ungrateful teenager or cheating husband, and many of the jokes fall flat. While Mafia Mamma seems to aspire to join Analyze This as a bit-filled mob comedy, Hardwicke’s entry never comes close.
Yet there are some genuine standout sequences. A krav maga class begins a chant so funny you’ll begin falling out of your chair. It becomes an ethos for much of the film, and having hardened Italian gangsters repeat it makes for amazing humor. Additionally, Collette sells surprisingly gruesome sequences, especially one featuring a hitman.
Part of the issue stems from the lack of supporting actors of Collette’s talent. She carries this vehicle as far as a one-woman show can, but other comedies of this ilk often have stronger supporting casts. Sadly, while Mafia Mamma seems to feature authentic Italian actors, it rarely allows them to rise out of stereotypes. Actors like Francesco Mastroianni, Alfonso Perugini, and Eduardo Scarpetta become wall-dressing instead of real characters.
Monica Bellucci gets a more complex arc, but her story is both odd and confusing. Even worse, Bellucci has limited screen time despite being the perfect foil for Collette. Sophie Nomvete becomes the only other performer to hold a scene on her own. Nomvete gets to nail some of the only funny lines of the movie, and her energy becomes a necessary boost for the film.
There will be many who find enjoyment in Mafia Mamma. However, it quickly fades away as a forgettable studio comedy. There are some moments of genuine joy, but the vast majority struggles to keep its head above water. One wonders how much it would struggle if not for Collette.