Mafia Mamma Parent Guide
This bloody story of female self-actualization fails in its attempt to combine crime, comedy, and action into a tonally coherent film
Parent Movie Review
Kristin Balbano (Toni Collette) leads a life of self-denying martyrdom. Her son (Tommy Rodger) is leaving for university and she’s overwhelmed by the parting – but still remembers to make trail mix for him to eat on the trip. Her man-child husband (Tim Daish) can’t hold down a real job and is cheating on her with the school guidance counselor. At work, her manager repeatedly ignores her well informed insights in favor of the sexist perspectives of her younger male colleague. Through it all, Kristin soldiers on, taking care of the men around her and putting her needs and feelings last.
When Kristin receives a phone call telling her that her grandfather has died and she must come to Italy to settle his affairs, she initially resists. Finally, her best friend (Sophia Nomvete) convinces her that she deserves to put herself first. An Italian vacation is the perfect opportunity to find herself – and maybe enjoy a romantic fling.
What Kristin doesn’t know is that her grandfather wasn’t a simple wine grower. He was the head of a Mafia family and she’s his designated heir. The Balbano family now expects her to make peace with the rival Romano syndicate and steer la famiglia into the future. Can an insecure, self-doubting innocent who describes herself as a “good person” survive in the bloody world of Italian organized crime or will she wind up just another body in the local morgue?
Mafia Mamma is an unsatisfactory film. It tries to be an action movie, with plenty of shootouts and fight scenes. It also tries to be a crime film, with twisty intrigues between (and within) the Balbano and Romano clans. And it attempts to be a comedy with plenty of “fish out of water” jokes and Italian stereotypes. It fails at all three. Crime and action genres usually play well together. And action and comedy also blend nicely. But this mixture of crime and comedy creates tonal shifts that make the film feel disconnected. It also feels crass: are we supposed to laugh when a mafioso dismembers a dead rival and sends the hand on a platter to the opposing camp? Gruesome violence just isn’t funny – and considering the horrendous suffering caused by the real-life Italian Mafia, I don’t think it’s a good source for comic material.
Unfortunately, this script also uses death and violence as the source of Kristin’s emerging assertiveness and self-confidence. I am a firm believer in women taking control of their lives and not pandering to less competent men, but I don’t think personal growth comes from killing people (even in self defense) or running a criminal organization that deals drugs and runs human trafficking operations. If Kristin’s self-actualization relies on the misery and despair of others (even if they are drug addicts or prostitutes she never sees) her “personal growth” isn’t worth much. Kristin can throw herself into being a “good person” and helping people in her community, but frankly she’s just swapped one form of self-deception for another.
Moviegoers who are sensitive to violence will note that this film doesn’t tidy up the blood. There are frequent shootouts and assassinations and in one particularly brutal scene, a killer attempts to rape and murder Kristin. (Spoiler Warning) She fights back and kills him with her stiletto heels, smashing his scrotum to a pulp and stabbing him through both eyes. Blood drips from his eye sockets as an eyeball rolls across the floor. Not a scene for those with weak stomachs.
Throughout the narrative, Mafia Mamma tries to position itself as a feminist story of a woman discovering her inner strength and flexing her own power. This is where the movie fails the most egregiously. If female power comes from assuming command of the most brutal social structures designed by men, is that really a victory? To me it looks like the most crushing defeat of all.Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Starring Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci, Sophia Nomvete. Running time: 101 minutes. Theatrical release April 14, 2023. Updated April 14, 2023
Watch the trailer for Mafia Mamma
Rating & Content Info
Why is Mafia Mamma rated R? Mafia Mamma is rated R by the MPAA for bloody violence, sexual content and language.
Violence: The movie is filled with violent scenes, mostly involving firearms and followed by scenes of corpses and bloody injuries. There are shootouts in public locations, and people are shot at in a funeral procession. A character kills multiple people in self defence. A person dies of poison. A woman fights back against an assassin and rapist, stabbing him in the crotch and through both of his eyes. Dead bodies are dismembered for disposal or for use as threatening messages: the severed limbs are shown on screen. A woman slaps someone in the face. A man breaks a woman’s telephone. A man falls to his death and is crushed by machinery. A person shoots at a police officer. During a firefight, a man’s severed fingers fly through the air.
Sexual Content: There are two sex scenes in which the parties are clothed but the activity is unmistakable. A man and woman make out and intend to have sex until one of them dies. There are scenes of a man and woman kissing passionately. A killer attempts to rape his victim but is prevented from doing so. A man licks an unwilling woman’s finger. Two women briefly discuss masturbation. A work meeting features repeated incidents of sexual innuendo. A woman wears clothes that reveal significant amounts of cleavage.
Profanity: There are over 100 swear words in the script, including approximately four dozen sexual expletives (some of which are part of a repeated chant) and roughly the same number of terms of deity. There are about a dozen scatological curses and eight minor profanities as well as a few crude anatomical terms.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There’s brief mention of dealing illegal drugs. People frequently drink alcohol on social occasions. A stressed woman drinks a fair bit of wine. A man is seen smoking a cigarette.
Other: A person vomits at the sight of a dead body.
Page last updated April 14, 2023
Mafia Mamma Parents' Guide
Why does Kristin go to Italy? What does she expect to find there? What’s the reality? Why does she stay? Do you think she had other choices? What would have happened if she had been honest with Lorenzo about her family’s activities? In what other ways could Kristin have found direction in her life and built her self-confidence? What is the history of the Mafia in Italy and the United States? What is the toll in lives and suffering of their activities?
Related home video titles:
Frequently referred to in the film, Eat Pray Love stars Julia Roberts and is the movie adaptation of a best-selling memoir about travel and self-discovery by Elizabeth Gilbert.
If you want a real life story about a powerful, dysfunctional Italian family, you can watch The House of Gucci.
For more family-friendly fare set in Italy, you can turn to Letters to Juliet, Love & Gelato, Made in Italy, Roman Holiday, or Under the Tuscan Sun.