‘Mafia Mamma’ Review: Toni Collette Inherits a Crime Syndicate in Fluffy Feminist Comedy

Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci lead a frivolous feminist romp from Catherine Hardwicke about an empty nester who finds herself as a mob boss.
Mafia Mamma
"Mafia Mamma"
Courtesy Bleecker Street

Though “The Godfather” is referenced a few times in “Mafia Mamma,” a fluffy comedy starring Toni Collette as a reluctant mob boss, the lack of direct quotes seems like a missed opportunity. There’s no “make her an offer she can’t refuse” joke, for instance, the moment American mom Kristin (Collette) is strong-armed into inheriting one of Italy’s most powerful crime families. And while Kristin’s arc perfectly matches the sentiment of “great men are not born great, they grow great,” this slam dunk was passed up for a more generalized approach.

The frivolous slapstick and unique premise of “Mafia Mamma” has much more in common with “Analyze This” than it does “The Godfather,” though the execution is not as clever. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”) from a script by J. Michael Feldman and Debbie Jhoon with story credit to Amanda Sthers, “Mafia Mamma” tried to fit a feminist comedy into the crime genre. Not quite parody and far from a serious crime drama, it lands a bit confusingly somewhere in the middle.

A simplistic plot and one-dimensional characters make “Mafia Mamma” feel a bit slight, but there is something fun about watching a wine-swilling Toni Collette moon over Italian men while accidentally murdering them. That is, if you can stomach a stiletto to the eyeball or two.

“Mafia Mamma” begins with a murderous scene, as two elegant black heels step over a mess of men’s bodies. “This means war,” says Bianca (Monica Bellucci), as she spits on the bloody cobblestones. A classic Italian dirge plays as the title flashes in a “Godfather”-esque font slapped with a pulpy red. As Bianca picks up her phone and makes a call, the somber scene stands in contrast to Kristin’s suburban American mom life, where she screens the unknown number amid cries about her son going off to college.

Her homemade trail mix road snack is practically still warm when she finds her husband downstairs in flagrante with the guidance counselor. On her rushed way out the door, the younger woman tells Kristin, “I just want you to know I’m a feminist…and I support your right to be angry.” Armed with this shocking information, Bianca’s mysterious offer to attend her estranged grandfather’s funeral in Rome starts to look better and better.

Her friend Jenny (the funny Sophia Nomvete) reminds her that she masturbates to Italian cooking shows, specifically Stanley Tucci’s, and that she practically “masturbated this fantasy into being.” Jenny comes up with the ingenious slogan, with recurs throughout the film, that Kristin deserves her “eat, pray, fuck” vacation. As their entire self-defense class suddenly chimes in with this rousing cry, the ridiculousness of it all is somehow less cringeworthy than it should be.

Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci in "Mafia Mamma"
Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci in “Mafia Mamma”Courtesy Everett Collection

Upon arriving in Rome, Kristin is immediately swept off her feet by a handsome Italian named Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), somehow giving him her number through her gaga giggles. She is swiftly collected by the tall Aldo (Francesco Mastroianni) and plumper Dante (Alfonso Perugini), an Italian Jasper and Horace who become her loyal muscle. They escort her directly to her grandfather’s funeral, which ends in a surprise shootout. Once back at the Balbano estate, she discovers her grandfather was not a vintner as she thought, but a notorious mafia boss of the Balbano crime family. His dying wish was that Kristin take over as Dona Balbano.

The contours of the comedy fall into place from there, as the jumpy and insecure American woman navigates the high-stakes masculine world of the Italian mafia. She melts into a puddle when she learns the head of the rival family is yet another swarthy Italian, and her botched seduction ends up in a surprise win for the Balbanos. Collette is in her comedic prime flirting shamelessly and obliviously with a man who wants her dead, and it’s easy to enjoy when she is having so much fun herself. Certain tropes play better than others; a stylish makeover reveal is always welcome, but a scene of Kristin smashing grapes with her feet just for the heck of it falls flat.

Kristin soon hits her stride, brutally murdering another assailant while muted on a work Zoom. The sequence is more than a little on the nose, but there’s a satisfying bite to seeing Kristin slam her heel into an assassin’s scrotum as the condescending men back home pitch their sexist ad copy. It isn’t subtle, but it gets the job done.

The plot leaves much to be desired, with the main question being whether Kristin will make peace and if she will continue to run the family business. Her family life is so thinly sketched (and her husband such a dud) that by the time he follows her to Italy, it does very little to raise the stakes in the way it should. Though she brings a certain Italian gravitas, Bellucci feels a bit wasted in her underdeveloped character. There’s value in women supporting women, but Bianca’s total lack of subterfuge or hidden ambition seems a little unrealistic, given the circumstances.

Though it’s all satisfyingly silly, “Mafia Mamma” never quite find its tone. Hardwicke doesn’t seem to know if she’s doing Quentin Tarantino or Mel Brooks, and the two styles are so far apart that splitting the difference lands the movie out at sea.

Grade: B-

A Bleecker Street release, “Mafia Mamma” will hit theaters on Friday, April 14.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.