Movie Review: The Faith-Based “A Family Man” Puts Its Audience Through Hell

“For a film wholly about morals and ethics, it’s astoundingly morally/ethically wrong. It puts its child character through unimaginable grief and gives its audience undeserved redemption.”


 

A headhunter whose life revolves around closing deals in a survival-of-the-fittest boiler room, battles his top rival for control of their job placement company — his dream of owning the company clashing with the needs of his family.

God sure is mentioned a lot in “A Family Man,” a faith-based cancer drama, which, as this critic’s 12 faithful readers know, is my favorite cinematic genre. In Mark Williams’ hilariously earnest and disastrously misguided tearjerker, God, Faith, and Being Good ultimately preside over Evil – though not before buckets of tears are shed, and a plethora of Positive Messages are spelled out. Its target Bible Belt audience may nod their heads in approval, but even they are bound to clutch their crosses in horror at some of the most unintentionally hilarious blowjob dialogue in cinematic history.

The story in a nutshell: the prototypically selfish/arrogant, Chicago headhunter Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) says things like, “This job is a desk, a phone, a chair… and your ass” and “I am who I say I am.” (Eminem?) A self-proclaimed “American hero,” Dane cheats, scams, lies to his clients, manipulates deals – and worst of all, misses Halloween with the kids. “You know what would be nice?” he tells his loving but neglected wife Elise (Gretchen Mol), after she gives him a blowjob for hours. “If I could cum.”

Dane mixes Red Bull with his coffee (a line of cocaine would probably be healthier, or at least better-tasting, I, ahem, assume). His greatest competitor is his young, determined co-worker Lynn (Alison Brie); his most challenging client – Lou (Alfred Molina), 59 and unemployable. Taunted by his Nazi-like boss (Willem Dafoe), on the verge of a major raise, Dane will stop at nothing to get what he wants… Except, of course, the Big C. The second half of “A Family Man” goes tumbling down into the charcoal abyss of morbid, crass manipulation.

Headhunter-turned-screenwriter Bill Dubuque has a real knack for maudlin exchanges – and none for snappy one-liners. “Every family has its issues,” Lou tells Dane at one point, as the music swells, “but you’ve only got one family.” What. A. Revelation. As for Gerard Butler, he just isn’t likable, no matter how many times his lips twitch and his baggy eyes water. The actor seems exhausted, cashing his paycheck in-between cocaine-fueled Hollywood parties. The film expects us to hate him at one point and relate to / root for him the next. The whole affair is as cheap as its protagonist’s job tactics, as misguided and lunkheaded as its lead star – sorry – former star. It does an atrocious job portraying true grief, without ever coming close to encompassing the implications of a terminal illness. Worst of all, “A Family Man” fails at even trying to be original or entertaining.

Apart from the lead, the cast comes off relatively unscathed. Gretchen Mol, in a thankless “nagging wife / grieving mother” role, does her darnedest with the crappiest of lines. “Maybe if we spent more time out of the bedroom,” she manages to utter with some conviction, “we’d spend more time in it.” Stalwarts Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe both seem to think they are in a different film. While Dafoe, in full-on “Gordon Gekko mode,” plays the Devil Incarnate Himself and manages to somehow stick true to his character, Molina – particularly in an honestly emotional, seemingly improvised bathroom scene – is a stark contrast to the ugly, fabricated cinematic reality surrounding him. If this entire project revolved around just following his character silently around the house, it would have made for an infinitely more entertaining experience.

For a film wholly about morals and ethics, it’s astoundingly morally/ethically wrong. It puts its child character through unimaginable grief and gives its audience undeserved redemption. It contains sequences such as Dane lying next to his comatose son as he head-hunts over the phone – not to mention THAT whole blowjob exchange. I hope its target demographic isn’t too offended by all that sex stuff. The rest of us are better off re-watching “Up in the Air,” or even “Boiler Room” instead.

In theaters Friday, July 28th


 

Alex graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a BA in Film & Media Arts and studied journalism at the Northwestern University in Chicago. While there, he got acquainted with the late Roger Ebert, who supported and inspired Alex in his career as a screenwriter and film critic. Alex has produced, written and directed a short zombie film, “Parched,” which is being distributed internationally and he is developing a series for a TV network, and is in pre-production on a major motion picture.
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