Monica Bellucci and Toni Collette in Mafia Mamma.  Image courtesy Paramount


MA 15+, 101 minutes

2 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

It is a delicious idea, nearly as good as home-made pasta. A middle-aged working mum in California gets a mysterious call from a stranger telling her that her presence is required at a funeral in Rome. She barely knew the grandfather who has died, but it’s implied that the trip to Italy is an offer that she can’t refuse. It will be the first of many.

Even though Kristin (Toni Collette) has discovered her husband is having an affair and she is having a bad time at work too, she isn’t sure whether to stick to her various duties or take off into the wide blue yonder. And the significance of such an offer is lost on her as she has never seen The Godfather movies.

Italy beckons, but Kristin needs a shove to send her on her way. This is delivered by her good friend Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) in a talking-to at the gym during a workout. Putting herself first is the hardest thing for Kristin, who does everything for everyone. In a riff on the wishy-washy mantra that author Elizabeth Gilbert delivered in her best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love, Jenny says it’s time for Kristin to put her life aside for a while, head off on an overseas trip, and get laid.

Kristen finally gives in. She will go, but not before a big stack of Tupperware containing meals she has prepared, labelled for each day of the week, are stacked in the fridge for her sweet adolescent son, Domenick (Tommy Rodger), and her faithless husband, Paul (Tim Daish).

Somehow Kirstin manages to get herself to Rome where she is picked up by waiting family. The funeral takes place in a glorious hilltop village that is probably Bracciano, a choice of location that is a real credit to the movie location scout. Then masked motorcyclists arrive and try to pick off as many of the family and retinue as they can. A slow-moving procession through winding streets was an opportunity too good to miss for the Balbanos’ arch-enemies, the Romanos.

Her grandfather’s former secretary and family insider, Bianca (Monica Bellucci) takes Kristin in hand. She explains to her, by way of a video message from her grandfather Don Guiseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), that it is an offer she cannot refuse. As Kristin is his only grandchild, she is his chosen heir and must take over the family business.

As things progress, Kristin shows remarkable aptitude for self-preservation

Toni Collette is Mafia Mamma. Image courtesy Paramount

She gets a glamorous makeover for a dinner arranged with Carlo Romano (Giuseppe Zeno), but forgets all about the Balbano mob plans that she was supposed to advocate. Desire gets the better of her, but not before some sleight-of-hand with a glass of spiked Limoncello, that sees the handsome bearded gangster she climbs into bed with drop dead in no time at all.

Then during a zoom meeting with the insufferable male colleagues who disrespect her, the Romano’s top assassin appears with a knife in her room. The guys at work have put her on mute while they watch something else, as Kristin fights back in a long sequence involving knives, stilettos and soft body parts. It’s an over-the-top moment in a comedy like this, as is the fatal fight sequence when Kristin’s rival for gang leaderships turns on her.

This is not among director Catherine Hardwicke’s best work. Her filmography includes the first of the incredibly successful franchise that launched Twilight, the remarkable teen movie Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown. Mafia Mamma needed a far lighter touch and a Kristin who you can believe in.  The screenplay was a collaboration between Amanda Sthers, J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon.

As the disrespected, put-upon suburban mum who morphs into the titular mafia mamma, Collette just isn’t the right actor for the role. As amazing and as versatile as this actor is, it is really difficult to believe in her as a wilting working mum and well-meaning klutz who can kill like a professional.

For those looking for female crime boss comedy, it’s impossible to go past Jean-Paul Salome’s Mama Weed with Isabelle Huppert in charge.

As films with strong women characters pick up the creative narrative possibilities that are offered by #MeToo, Mafia Mamma is barely funny. It has gone too far. Way past Emerald Fennell’s brilliant, shocking Promising Young Woman, and beyond.

First published in the Canberra Times on 14 April 2023.  Jane’s reviews are also published on Rotten Tomatoes