The mother blows up a grocery store because of contentious flak from the French owner. The father blows up a turbine to purify his tap water, and the daughter and son come to blows with their schoolmates. That’s how seriously you should take the Blakes’ claim for normalcy, as the film’s title We’re A Nice Normal Family intimates.
Then again, since Homer Simpson, the bumbling father in long-running cartoon series, The Simpsons, said, “Remember, as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice normal family.” that’s been code for the exact opposite.
Inspired by the novel, Malavita(gangsters in English) by Tonino Benacquista, the film tells of a Mafioso on the run with his wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and 2 children to Cholong, a sleepy town in France. Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) is an Italian-American mafia boss who has to relocate continuously after snitching on other mafias. He now comes under the wings of Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) under the FBI Witness Protection Program.
Despite ditching their original surname for a decidedly non-Italian Blake, and being forced to fit in with other teenagers, the children, Belle (Dianna Agron, best known as cheerleading beauty Quinn in Glee) and Warren (John D’Leo), lose no time getting in trouble with the locals.
We’re A Nice Normal Family plays on some bitter historical relations between the Americans and French with the stereotypical ridiculing of the family by locals as they try to fit in. The familiar accusations are a source of dark humor and also a trigger for the Blake’s violent acts.
The audience may feel a pinch of pity for Giovanni when he seeks solace in an old typewriter, typing the story of his life – a distressing tale of a villain. He muses about the glorious days of a mafia, and also the dark and cloudy side of a mobster life that nobody bothers to see.
Award-winning Robert de Niro is no stranger to playing a mafia. Not only has he portrayed the young Vito Corleone, a loyal, reasonable man who uses violence only as a last resort on his rise to becoming a highly-respected and feared leader in The Godfather: Part II, he has also played Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas – the charismatic, fearless gangster who, unless his interests are compromised, is seemingly a caring, loyal friend.
With Michelle Pfieffer’s experience and extraordinary performance in Scarface and Married to the Mob as well, We’re A Nice Normal Family could have been a blast with the formidable duo, but the show is not as promising as it should be.
Acting as an agent in the film is no big feat for Tommy Lee Jones, who could secretly be an FBI in real life. The 3 veteran actors look comfortable in their own skin as they assume the characters with sleek.
Be ready to wince in your seat every few minutes as the family burns a face or breaks a nose. If this is them trying to stay incognito, you quickly get a good idea how violent they were during their mafia days. On that note, the film fails to provide in-depth context about the past conflict but only a mere mention of Giovanni’s snitching act that has put the Manzonis’ lives on the line.
Besides this lack of background, the showdown between the Manzonis and the rival mafia at the end was a total anti-climax. The rival mafias who were terribly feared upon in the first ¾ of the film fail to impress, and the rapid meltdown of the mob is a disappointing plot twist when Belle and Warren prove to be more than capable of pitting themselves against 8 heavily-armed hit men.
BAM! BAM! BAM! Scenes are transiting one after the other, making the film action filled but a tad too hasty.
Well known for his Hollywood inclined films, Luc Besson enjoyed previous success producing films with mass appeal. However, this film is too mainstream to make an impression, as the plot seemed to take on too many ideas, losing its direction in the process.
Though you get ample proof of how beastly the Manzonis are, as you take a step back to look past the superficial violence that permeates the film, you might understand how 1 bloody brood yearns to tidy up its long-running act.
Oh, and do pardon their French. They are, after all, one nice normal family.
Release Date: Sep 19
Runtime: 110 mins
Censorship Rating: M18
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Director: Luc Besson
Main Actors: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron
This article is written by Charmaine Lim.