Everyone’s got a story. We’re all central characters in our own narratives filled with drama, action, passion and comedy. Some folks even write their stories down, believing that they might be of interest to others.
That’s great. Nothing wrong with that at all—unless you’re in the Witness Protection Program. Then it’s probably not such a hot idea.
Giovanni Manzoni and his family have been in the program for years now. Ever since Giovanni ratted on his other family (that’d be the Mafia), this ex-wiseguy’s been running and hiding from his former associates with the help of FBI agent Robert Stansfield, who does his best to keep Giovanni and his family alive.
It’s not easy. The family business is in the Manzoni blood, and they’re never in a place very long before some (ahem) unfortunate tendencies resurface. When suspicions and neighborhood body counts start to rise, Robert and his operatives swoop in and move the Manzonis somewhere safer.
So now Giovanni’s had more aliases than Sean Combs. His latest? Fred Blake, to go along with a new place to live: Normandy, France. Here, in this bucolic locale, Robert hopes that the Manzo— er, the Blakes, can find some peace and stability. That they can make it even a few months without whacking the delivery man or extorting money from the high school basketball team. Maybe Fred, his lovely wife Maggie, daughter Belle and son Warren will learn that life need not end after you stop stuffing horse heads into people’s beds.
But that’s a deal the Manzonis just can’t take.
They haven’t been in town three days before Maggie blows up a supermarket (after hearing some patrons gossip about boorish Americans), Belle beats a classmate with a tennis racquet (for flirting with her) and Warren’s formulated a plan to become a crime kingpin at the local high school.
And Fred? He finds a typewriter and decides to write his memoires.
Yeah, he doesn’t seem like such a wise guy now, does he?
In his autobiography, Fred details his good points—how he’s a man of his word, how he never looks for scapegoats, how he never inflicts violence needlessly. But since many of those qualities still leave others grievously injured, let’s skip on to a quality he doesn’t write about: his love for his family. Fred does what he can to keep those he cares about safe and, at times, he feels guilty because of the difficult position he’s put them in. His family seems to love him back. Indeed, at the end of the movie, he says that their shared experiences in Normandy brought the whole family closer.
Fred and Robert, in contrast, are not so loving. In fact, they kinda hate each other. Yet Robert’s worked all these years to keep Fred safe, and they’ve gotten to know each other so well that they’ve developed a certain begrudgingly affectionate bond. Fred admits to Robert that he probably hates him more than anyone else, but he also considers him a friend.
Maggie goes to a Catholic church and prays before a stained-glass window of Jesus. She admits to Him that her family can be a little exasperating, and she begs for His mercy. She pleads with Jesus to guide her children, that they might become better people. “I can’t do it all on my own,” she says. “Amen.”
A priest notices that Maggie often comes to pray, but that she never comes to Mass. He invites her into the confessional booth and—after the priest promises that whatever secrets pass in confession stay secret—she accepts, and the confession seems to help her.
Later, however, she’s not welcome when she returns to the church again. The priest demands that she leave, saying that she and her family must be in league with evil and Satan. “Leave this holy place for the love of God!” he shouts.
Belle, 17, falls in love with a college-age math scholar and loses her virginity to him. In a classroom, they have sex against the wall (with explicit noises and movements). Later, he tells Belle it was just a “moment” for him. But for her part, she says, “I gave you my heart and soul. Love was the only thing that could take me away from my crazy life, and you crushed it.” Belle is also given a ride by classmates to a park, where one of them tells her he’d like to get to know her better—playing with her bra strap as he says it. She’s having none of it and beats him severely with a tennis racquet.
We see glimpses of pornographic pictures and hear a discussion about a “Miss April.” When Maggie hears about Belle’s private tutoring sessions with a guy, she smiles and asks, “You have condoms at least?” When Belle says the two of them are not having sex (and they’re not at the time), Maggie recalls her first sexual experience with Fred in a church.
Fred and Maggie make out in the living room as a prelude to sex (which is hinted at but not shown).
Fred says at one point, “All my sadistic urges are satisfied when I hurt a person for a good reason.” And so he comes up with a lot of “good” reasons.
The family drives to Normandy with a dead body in the car (a secret only known by Fred and his dog). In the dead of night, Fred buries the plastic-wrapped, blood-covered corpse. When a plumber yanks him around a little, Fred takes a baseball bat to the man’s legs. And when the bat breaks, he announces he’s not finished and grabs a hammer. (Fred then takes the man to the hospital and looks over the doctors’ shoulders as they view X-rays of his broken bones.)
Another guy Fred tangles with gets tied to the back of a car and dragged around for a while. (We see the bloody aftermath.) In flashback, we see Fred beat up one guy and dip another in acid. He fantasizes about pushing a guest’s head onto a barbecue grill, stuffing large, flaming coals down someone else’s mouth and slamming yet another person’s fingers in a drawer. He blows up part of a fertilizer factory.
When the Mafia discovers the whereabouts of Fred’s family, one of the thugs tells Maggie that, because of a Mafia code, he has to “dirty” her first—meaning he’s required to rape her before killing her. He’s just beginning to unbuckle his pants (we see his boxers) when Fred, then Maggie, choke and stab him.
Other Mafia thugs raise a ruckus too. One shoots a family of four in cold blood (thinking they’re the Manzonis). Another family lies dead shortly after the same man questions them. A gang guns down police officers and a fireman. And in the climactic gun battle, several folks are shot and killed. One baddie blows up Fred’s house with a rocket. We see bodies covered in bullet holes and blood.
Warren is initially bullied at school, kicked repeatedly by four guys in a bathroom and left bleeding, bruised and barely able to move. Then he turns the tables and gets some new high school henchmen to beat the stuffing out of his one-time assailants. Warren himself participates with a baseball bat.
As mentionied, Maggie blows up a grocery store. A dog attacks a man. A lackey cuts the finger off a corpse—a finger that turns up again later. A despondent, perhaps suicidal teen seems ready to throw herself off a tall building. Someone’s kicked in the groin. We hear about how someone was killed with a 2X4.
Warren wonders aloud to Belle why their father would try to write a memoir “when he could express the entire range of human emotion with just one word.” That word, of course, is the f-word, and it’s used about 40 times. The s-word tags along with a tally of about 10. God’s name is misused at least five times (once paired with “d‑‑n”), and Jesus’ name is abused three or four times as well. The growing list is rounded out with “a‑‑,” “b‑‑ch,” “b‑‑tard,” “h‑‑‑” and “p‑‑‑.”
Characters smoke cigarettes and drink wine, champagne, beer and hard liqour. Maggie smokes a marijuana joint. As part of his burgeoning underworld empire, Warren sells pills (apparently for sexual stamina) and worms his way into a tobacco-selling racket.
As mentioned, Warren creates his own little bag-guy empire at school. He’s dragged before the school board and confronted with a list of the terrible deeds he’s committed, ranging from extortion to bullying (students and teachers alike). After he leaves the meeting he decides to run away from home, go to Paris and get involved in the “family business.” His sister talks about similar plans (though running away ultimately isn’t her real intent).
“You’re the best dad anybody could ask for,” Belle says, wrapping her arms around Fred’s neck.
“F‑‑‑ yeah,” she says.
And that pretty much sums up The Family in one perversely tender, obscenity-addled package. Still, there are a few more things I probably need to mention:
Just as Fred tried to be a good dad, The Family may have tried, at one point, to be a good movie. Maybe this was supposed to be a story about a family coming closer together in the midst of struggle. Maybe we were supposed to see the children grow a little more mature. Maybe we were supposed to notice Fred change deep down, to see him realize that his real family is so much more valuable than the Mafia he used to call his family. Maybe one of these characters, somehow, somewhere, was supposed to have changed and grown, even just a little.
And every once in a while, we do glimpse hints that some of these themes might’ve been in the movie … once. But if they were ever there, somewhere along the line they were dropped like a pair of concrete galoshes, leaving the movie to flounder and sink, both in terms of its story and its morality. In the end, there’s no purpose to much of anything here, really. No reason for the bodies or blood or brutality or 40 f-words.
It’s true that everyone has a story—but this isn’t much of a story at all. And what there is of it doesn’t deserve to be told.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.