Film Review – Mafia Mamma

Mafia Mamma

Mafia Mamma

On paper, I can see why Toni Collette would be interested in a project like Mafia Mamma (2023). It allows her to flex her comedic chops, visit beautiful Italian locales, drink wine, eat good food, be a boss and kick some ass along the way. For an actor who has the skillset to tackle just about any kind of character in any kind of genre, letting loose and having fun every once and awhile seems like a splendid idea. I can understand why Collette would be attracted to this material, to the point of taking a producer’s credit. What ends up on screen, however, is well below her talents. This is one of those situations where a film was probably more fun to make than it is to watch. 

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (with Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon on screenplay), the narrative takes on a classic fish out of water scenario. Collette plays Kristin, a mother and wife in desperate need of a change. With her son (Tommy Rodger) heading off to college and husband (Tim Daish) proving to be an unfaithful man-baby, Kristin finds herself stuck in a rut. Things change with the passing of her beloved grandfather. Kristin whisks away to Italy not only to attend his funeral, but to take in the sights and have an adventure. This is an opportunity to have her version of “Eat, Pray, Love” – although she replaces “Love” with “F*&k.” Sometimes people just want to have fun without all the messiness of real life.


Oh, but do things get messy very quickly. As soon as she steps off the plane, Kristin discovers that her romantic trip has taken a turn for the worse. Her grandfather was not a sweet and innocent wine maker, but head to the Balbano crime family, and that his death may have been caused by a rival gang. To make matters more complicated, he left his entire empire to Kristin. Instead of an existence of domesticity and pharmacy sales, she has inherited an entire organization. With the help of her grandfather’s consigliere (Monica Bellucci), Kristin must lead the Balbano’s through a crime war – that’s a lot to ask from someone just looking to be a tourist.

Collette leans into the wackier, nebbish side of her character, especially in the earlier half. She injects Kristin with a lot of nervous energy, not just for being the new “Don” of the Balbano family, but as a person in a foreign land. She stumbles over her words, laughs awkwardly, and is a little too trusting of helpful strangers. Collette’s performance has a kind of screwball physicality. She utilizes her body and expressive face to help amplify the comedic scenes. This doesn’t make Kristin a dumb person, in fact quite the opposite. She is highly adaptable to new situations – even if it’s mostly born out of naivete. Seeing her try to negotiate a peace agreement amongst warring clans – or simply visiting the many ancient ruins and attractions – feels like she is on the edge of calamity. Yet somehow, she manages to work her way out of any situation.

Hardwicke’s direction paints the narrative with several conflicting tones. Day scenes are shot with warm, soft lighting. Patrick Marguia’s cinematography takes plenty of time to highlight the numerous vineyards, orchards, and rustic buildings as a contrast to Kristin’s mundane life back in the states. Her romantic rendezvous with a hunky Italian man (Giulio Corso) border on something you would see out of a postcard. Walks along the river, taking selfies with a perfect backdrop, trips around neighboring villages on Vespas, frolicking along sun-kissed groves surrounded by white flowers, etc. – all these moments are egregiously over the top. I began to wonder if Hardwicke and company were trying to subvert the tropes of a romantic comedy as opposed to telling a sincere story.


The lightness of those sequences conflict once Kristin enters the world of her grandfather. There is a surprising level of violence and mayhem. Night scenes are shot with a gloomy aesthetic, creating a sense of menace and danger. The production includes several gruesome kill scenes, not shying away from gore. Closeups of gouged out eyes, dismembered body parts, blood gushing out of gunshot wounds – these all have the shock and awe normally reserved for the horror or thriller genre. There are references to The Godfather (1972) series. Some are clever – such as oranges being used as a symbol of death or calamity. Hardwicke includes images that are directly lifted from that famous franchise – anyone familiar (who isn’t?) will spot them immediately. I guess in this case, Kristin is the Michael Corleone character: an innocent who gets put into a position of power without asking for it. Although I’m not so sure the results are the same.

Tonal imbalances aside, Mafia Mamma is just not very funny. Despite Collette’s best efforts, her performance can’t make up for a thin plot and two-dimensional characters. Monica Bellucci is just as experienced a performer but is regulated to nothing more than a guide. Sadly, she has nothing else to do. Sophia Nomvete plays Kristin’s friend and operates as comic relief. She is such a forgettable part that she’s absent through much of the runtime. In her place are Francesco Mastroianni and Alfonso Perugini, who play members of the Balbano family and Kristin’s personal bodyguards. They spend all their time hanging out in the periphery, with the occasional punchline every once and awhile. Outside of a momentary chuckle, the humor doesn’t elicit much of a response. A lot of the gags aim for low hanging fruit, such as a scene involving a dead body, a cell phone, and vomit. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the gaps on that one.

There have been plenty of movies in which an outsider gets thrusted into the inner workings of the mob for comedic purposes. Off the top of my head, there’s Analyze This (1999), Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), and The Freshman (1990). I’m sure there are plenty more, but honestly, who’s counting? Mafia Mamma belongs in the same category. Despite some gorgeous scenery and a committed lead performance, this doesn’t leave much to be remembered. It might be a fine distraction, but it’s a distraction nonetheless.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

You can reach Allen via email or Twitter

View all posts by this author