Toni Collette Shines In Catherine Hardwicke’s Outlandish Crime Comedy ‘Mafia Mamma’ – Review

“What the f*** is going on?!” –Kristin 

Since the beginning of cinema, many films and television shows have depicted the mafia or various crime syndicates. There is such an abundance of these projects it’s become a subgenre of its own, with familiar tropes, archetypes and storylines. However, Mafia Mamma subverts expectations and offers us something fun and new. The Catherine Hardwicke-directed flick is full of laughs, absurdity, and great performances by Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, and Sophia Nomvete.

Written by Michael J. Feldman, Debbie Jhoon, and Amanda Sthers, Mafia Mamma follows Kristin (Collette), who is dissatisfied with work, her misogynist boss, her anxiety over becoming an empty nester and the recent discovery of her husband’s extramarital affair. With no one to turn to aside from her best friend, Jenny (Nomvete), Kristin is at a loss. That is until a phone call from a stranger named Bianca (Bellucci) informs Kristin that her grandfather, Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), has passed away.

Toni Collette as Kristin and Monica Bellucci as Bianca in Mafia Mamma. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Since Kristin has been estranged from her grandfather since she was a child, she doesn’t know how to react. However, when she gets the invite to the funeral, she begins to think that this trip might be just what she’s needed for a long time. Thankfully, Jenny is the voice of reason who reminds Kristin how much she’s wanted to return to Italy. With her decision made, Kristin goes to Italy, but what awaits her is something she never expected. When a rival family attacks the funeral, Kristin is made aware that her grandfather is not an ordinary Italian man. His dying wish is for her to become the new boss of the Balbano crime family and, in Kristin’s words, “I am not a boss…especially not in a mafia kinda way.”

The best part about Mafia Mamma is the cast. Every actor is pitch-perfect and brings something enjoyable to the screen. Collette shines as Kristin, taking on the role with ease and impeccable comedic timing. Much like any other roles that Collette portrayed in the past, Collette embodied the role of Kristin perfectly. Whether it was the discovery of her husband cheating, sending her son off to college or dealing with her horrible boss, there isn’t a moment where Collette isn’t leaning into the wildness of the situation her character finds herself in. Unsurprisingly, Colette expertly embodies her character and imbues Kristin with great depth and humour, all while looking like she is having a blast. Collette is impeccable in an ensemble cast as she offers her screen partners so much to strengthen their on-screen chemistry.

Toni Collette as Kristin in Mafia Mamma. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Bellucci and Nomvete shine in their own right, and my two criticisms are that I wish there were more of them. Belluci and Collette don’t seem like a natural fit on paper, but the two actresses settle into a lovely rhythm as they complement and contrast each other in the best ways. While Collette carries much of the comedic load, Nomvete is a formidable presence in her own right. Unfortunately, there is not enough of her as she’s particularly hilarious as Jenny. Furthermore, Jenny firmly fits into the Black best friend trope–an exhausted trope that has overstayed its welcome. While Nomvete is extremely funny, Jenny’s primary purpose is to be a confidant and advisor to Kristin. Even though the audience gets moments where we see that Jenny’s character is a busy attorney, she is always available to and at Kristin’s disposal, even eventually partaking in some of the shenanigans in Rome.

The character of Jenny has everything that falls into this trope, which is unfortunate because, as previously said, Nomvete is a bright part of the film. It would have been funnier if there was a way to have more of Jenny outside of simply being the sassy, funny lawyer friend.

Toni Collette as Kristin and Sophia Nomvete as Jenny in Mafia Mamma. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Mafia Mamma is still a highly enjoyable time with laughs, mob madness and a few surprisingly gory moments. As always, Hardwicke puts her best foot forward in the directing chair, getting great performances out of her actors and keeping the story character-driven. While Mafia Mamma is, first and foremost, a comedy, it smartly shows the misogyny that women deal with in the workplace, regardless of the job. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer, an attorney or a mafia don. If someone wants to undermine your work and worth because you are a woman, they will. Additionally, the film understands the power of women supporting each other, ensuring that Kristin’s relationship with Bianca and Jenny is just as relevant as her romantic pursuits. Mafia Mamma is by no means a feminist reworking of the gangster subgenre; rather, it is just simply an entertaining take on the genre with strong feminist themes.

If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ll know what to expect in some regards, but it is so much more. Mafia Mamma is undoubtedly worth a watch because of the elevated performances of its cast and its endearing tale of a woman stepping into her power. The film is a pleasure to watch when it spends time on Kristin’s journey to finally doing what is best for her and when it leans into the craziness that follows her. However, it should go without saying Toni Collette is a big reason for this story working.

Mafia Mamma arrives in theatres on April 14.

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