Robert De Niro has such a history playing wiseguys that The Family almost serves as an epilogue for those who survived. Of course, the gritty realism that comes through in most of De Niro’s previous work in the mob movie genre gets replaced by cartoonish behavior and nihilistic violence, but it’s the dark edge and strong cast which make this movie enjoyable.
Beginning as a fish-out-of-water comedy of a vicious, sociopathic American family moving into a quaint town in Normandy, it’s immediately hard to sympathize with the Blakes. The father, De Niro, is a monster. The mother, well played by Michelle Pfeiffer, believes any slanderer, even one she may not understand, should die in a fire. The son, at 14, is an all-purpose hustler, using others’ needs to fulfill his own. And the daughter, as though channeling every bit of rage from the recent attacks on women throughout the world, uses her girl power to beat respect into anyone who crosses her. These are bad people, and the audience may or may not care if they’re all wiped out in a volley of machine gun fire. The turning point is whether the audience is willing to buy into The Family’s individual logic.
More interesting is The Family’s play on the image of Americans abroad. As token Yanks, the Blakes are stereotypes of the egotistical and violent aspects of their national image taken to ridiculous extremes. They’re satires of how the international community views American people and culture. While this could be seen as offensive by some who may either lack awareness of their own culture or a sense of humor toward it, it’s far funnier to see how the concept of “American” becomes exoticized by the townsfolk. From De Niro being an expert on American films because he’s from New York to all the desire and jealousy toward “Miss America,” the French of The Family treat Americans the way Americans treat the French.
There are many stumbles through the plot, especially in its random violence and the children’s subplots (Bella’s development is exceptionally murky, the motivation is interesting but far too serious far too fast) but seeing the family interact between each other and their handlers (Tommy Lee Jones, et al) makes them feel like more than crudely drawn stereotypes. Then suddenly The Family becomes a typical Luc Besson movie and everything is blown away. Because who cares? We all gotta die sometime.[subscribe2]