A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Family Man is a 2000 movie starring Nicolas Cage as a wealthy investment banker who is given the opportunity to experience what his life would have been like had he decided to stay with his college girlfriend instead of going off to London to study economics. The movie has some mature themes, including adultery and one-night stands. A woman is naked in a shower; the glass and steam mostly cover up her nudity, but there's a glimpse of buttocks and breast. Jack and his wife start to have sex, but when he says something she finds inappropriate, she stops him. A woman suggests an affair, and Jack's friend tells him that it would be disastrous: "Don't screw up your whole life just because you're a little unsure about who you are." The movie does make it clear that loving, married sex is the ideal. Characters turn to liquor to relieve stress, and a character makes a joke about his wife's drinking. There is some strong language, including "s--t" and one use of "f--k."
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What's the story?
Nicolas Cage plays Jack Campbell, a man who is perfectly delighted with his life the way it is. He loves money, making it on Wall Street, and spending it on expensive suits, gourmet meals, and a snazzy sports car. He doesn't mind Scrooge-ily calling a meeting at the office on Christmas, telling himself it's for the employees' own good, since they'll be making so much money. But then he stops to buy eggnog and sees a man (Don Cheadle) pull out a gun when a store clerk refuses to pay off his lottery ticket. His offer to buy the ticket mysteriously catapults him into the life he chose not to have -- a life in the New Jersey suburbs, with him married to his college sweetheart (Tea Leoni), with two small children and a job selling tires. His old life has disappeared. It's his worst nightmare, and he gets many opportunities to be horrified by diapers and outlet-store merchandise and to completely deconstruct his old life before he begins to realize what he's missed.
Is it any good?
There's some predictability and awkward construction in this movie; it feels as if it were edited heavily after focus-group testing, leaving some characters and plot lines unresolved. Nonetheless, this is a holiday pleasure. Cage and Leoni are enormously appealing in their various incarnations. There are some funny lines and warm moments, especially when the one person Jack can't fool is his daughter, who knows this is not the daddy she loves and decides he must be an alien. And there is a satisfying resolution that incorporates the best of both options.
The grand tradition of "what if?" movies from A Christmas Carol to It's a Wonderful Life and the more recent Passion of Mind and Me Myself I show us an unhappy hero or heroine who finds out what life would have been like if he or she had made a different choice. Though in this version, Jack loved his life to begin with.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of the "roads not taken" and what they think their lives might be like now if they had made other choices.
Comparisons have been made of this movie to the 1940s Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. How is this movie similar to and different from that classic film and other holiday-themed movies and stories in which selfish characters learn the importance of love and the bonds of family, friendship, and community?
How is marriage represented in this movie? What are the highs and lows, as well as the joys and difficulties, conveyed through action and dialogue? Do you think it's realistic? Why, or why not?
What do you think the angel will do for the young woman who accepted too much change?
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