FILM: THE FAMILY
CAST: ROBERT DE NIRO, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, TOMMY LEE JONES, DIANNA AGRON, JOHN D’LEO, JIMMY PALUMBO, DOMENICK LOMBARDOZZI
DIRECTOR: LUC BESSON
After an ex-mob boss snitches on his former cohorts, he and his firecracker wife, their all-American daughter and wanna-be wiseguy son are all forced to relocate to a picturesque village in Normandy where they bring new meaning to the phrase “crime family” in Luc Besson’s subversively funny new film, ‘The Family’.
The critically acclaimed French director takes audiences on an unexpectedly humorous journey as Giovanni Manzoni, played by Robert De Niro, and his close-knit clan must resort to their old habits in order to navigate life in small town France while staying one step ahead of assassins dispatched by his now incarcerated former colleagues.
“Giovanni, now known as Fred Blake, has attempted to start over in different places, first the U.S., then Paris and the South of France,” explains Besson. “None of those places have worked out for him, mostly because he and his family can’t resist their old ways of dealing with problems. Now they find themselves in the tiniest French village you can imagine, where they think nothing ever happens. But they’re wrong. That’s exactly when things really start to happen.”
Much of the humour in the film comes from the misunderstandings between the Blake family and their new neighbours. “There’s a good deal of confrontation between the family and the local people in Normandy,” says Besson. “In the French countryside, if you need a plumber, you have to wait about two years. These guys are kings of the world. If you’re unpleasant with them, you’ll wait four years. Whoever it is, the local priest, the grocery store owner or the plumber in this little village, they are all trying to take a little advantage of the Americans, thinking they must have money. But they don’t know who they’re dealing with. You can’t do that to Giovanni Manzoni — or Fred Blake. If you try to cheat him, he’s going to kill you.”
Besson and co-screenwriter Michael Caleo adapted ‘The Family’ from Tonino Benacquista’s comedic action novel ‘Malavita’. Besson recalls that upon reading ‘Malavita’, he immediately envisioned legendary actor Robert De Niro in the role of Manzoni (aka Fred Blake). But before mentioning his idea to Benacquista, he asked the writer who he thought should play the role. “He said he had always dreamed of casting De Niro,” says Besson. “I had known Robert for years, so we sent him the book, which he found very funny. As I worked on the script, I sent that as well and he said he would come aboard.”
De Niro says he was attracted to the film’s humour and original point of view, especially the fact that it was an unusual take on the mobster genre with a novel storyline. “My character was a crime boss in New York, but he turned in his whole crew. Now he and his family are in the middle of nowhere and it might as well be Mars. The situation can seem a bit surreal, but the character is very real and relatable,” mentions the actor.
With an iconic actor of De Niro’s stature on board, casting the rest of the roles was easy. Michelle Pfeiffer was Besson’s first choice to play Maggie. Although De Niro and Pfeiffer both starred in the films ‘Stardust’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’, they had never actually appeared in a scene together. Still, De Niro says he felt very comfortable working with her. “I figured it was a good match for us,” he says. “I’m very happy that Michelle was available and wanted to do this.”
Pfeiffer says she came to the set looking forward to working with De Niro and was not disappointed. “He’s such an icon,” she says. “There are maybe five actors that have godlike status for me, and he’s one of them. He is very humble, very quiet and collaborative, and he has a generous spirit.”
The actress, who starred in Jonathan Demme’s 1988 Mafia comedy ‘Married to the Mob’, admits she has a fondness for playing gangster’s wives, but the real attraction for her was the Manzoni-Blake family dynamic. “They take a genre that I love in a new direction.
This is really about how they interact with each other and the outside world, which is a great source of humour in the film. They are their own worst enemies and impossible to protect because they just can’t behave. It’s really about the family connection and that overrules all, no matter the circumstances.”
CAST: KERI RUSSELL, JJ FEILD, BRET MCKENZIE
DIRECTOR: JERUSHA HESS
Austenland is a romantic comedy about 30-something, single Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), a seemingly normal young woman with a secret: her obsession with all things Jane Austen. But when she decides to spend her life savings on a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.
Based on the novel by Shannon Hale (who also co-wrote script), the film was written and directed by Jerusha Hess (writer, ‘Napoleon Dynamite’).