Non-Mormon Mormon Movies, Part 3: “The Family Man”

This is the third in an occasional series on Non-Mormon Mormon Movies (N-MMM). The idea here is to discuss movies that are not made by members of the Church, and are therefore not considered “Mormon movies,” but have broad themes that Latter-day Saints would or should enjoy.

“The Family Man” (2000) has a title all Mormons can love.

Before getting into the movie, it’s worth pointing out that this is a PG-13 movie with some very sexy scenes and a fair amount of bad language. I let my kids see the movie for its moral points, but I covered their eyes a few times and warned them about the language. I would definitely suggest getting the Cleanflicks version.

But there is a lot to recommend in this film to the Latter-day Saint viewer. There is an angel, spirituality, progression and growth. And the movie’s message is one members of the Church can appreciate.

Nicolas Cage plays Jack Campbell, a successful and happy Wall Street investment banker. It’s Christmas and Jack Campbell is about to close a huge deal that will bring in millions for himself and his associates. Campbell hears from an old girlfriend whom he almost married thirteen years earlier. On the advice of his mentor, he decides not to call the girlfriend. On Christmas Eve, he leaves his office late and decides to pick up some eggnog before returning to his apartment all alone. Without spoiling the plot, while he is at the store he commits an act of kindness that causes the angel to intervene so that Jack is provided a glimpse of how his life could provide so much more. (This is definitely not an LDS version of an angel, and indeed is never identified as such, but you get the impression that the person is an angel).

Jack goes to sleep in his apartment but wakes up in a house in New Jersey. There, he finds he is married — to his former girlfiend Kate Reynolds played by Tea Leoni — with two kids. He has been transported into an alternate reality — a reality that he would have lived had he married this girlfriend 13 years earlier.

At first he is horrified. He is used to the good life of a Wall Street Master of the Universe, and now he is a member of the penny-pinching middle class. He has no idea how to deal with his two children (he has apparently never changed a diaper). And he is not immediately attracted to his former girlfriend who is now his wife.

But over time Jack changes. He begins to fall in love again with Kate. He begins to love his children. He finds a new layer of happiness that he didn’t know existed. The money of Wall Street — while tempting — seems to be less important than before. And when he has learned his lesson, he is transported back to the real life he had before. As you can imagine, the third act resolves the issue of him trying to get in touch with Kate again.

One of the best things about “The Family Man” is that Jack truly is happy as an investment banker. Hollywood loves to portray high financiers as miserable losers, but I have known a fair amount of them, and they are happy, successful people. But many of them are missing something in their lives, just as Jack is: they are missing a deeper understanding of our purpose for being.

As Jack comes to appreciate his family life, he in effect discovers a completely new reason for being. He was happy before, but now he has the deeper happiness that family, a loving campanion and stability bring. He begins to see that these things cannot be bought and that there is more to life than the pursuit of pleasure and money.

Jack’s discovery is similar to a convert’s discovery of the fulness of the gospel. Many of us were happy before on a certain level, but upon discovering the gospel we have arrived at a new level of joy we didn’t know existed. I compare it to a blind person who is happy being blind but suddenly is allowed to see, and is ecstatic with the gift of sight. Jack goes through the same process — he gets a new sense, the sense of happiness from family life.

The Cleanflicks version of “The Family Man” would definitely be appropriate for a ward activity or seminary. There is lots to learn and discuss in this movie.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “Non-Mormon Mormon Movies, Part 3: “The Family Man”

  1. Yes, it cuts out a few choice scenes (the shower scene and a bedroom scene) and the swear words. You don’t lose much. I actually prefer the Cleanflicks version by a lot (something I can’t necessarily say for all films).

  2. Geoff,

    I love this film. I have a wicked bad crush on Kate — perhaps the worst crush I have on any movie character (excepting Jessica Rabbit).

  3. Kate Reynolds is a very attractive character. Interestingly, Tea Leoni plays a very unattractive character just four years later in “Spanglish,” a not-very-good movie that also is better on Cleanflicks.

  4. I’m all for the Spanglish threadjack! I thought that the movie tried to do to much. Especially when you consider the college admissions bookends of the story. That said, I can’t think of how it could be edited to be tighter without losing a lot, since all aspects of it interrelated so much. I guess that is why I think of it as flawed.

  5. Spanglish was the definition of manipulative. Flor was gorgeous and nice and perfect, so we were manipulated into not caring that the main character (can’t remember his name) falls in love with her. Meanwhile, the Tea Leoni character is mean and annoying, so once again you don’t care about her feelings. Real characters are simply not like that — they have nuances that Spanglish ignored. I really did not like that movie at all.

    Just as a comparison, think about the characters in “The Family Man” — extremely believable and nuanced. Compare them to the characters in “Spanglish” — who were all ciphers and unbelievable. Just bad movie-making in the case of “Spanglish.”

  6. The Family Man was terrific, and had an intelligent ending: The filmmakers didn’t cop out and give us an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but an honest one instead.

    Oh, and Téa Leoni spells her name with an acute accent over the e in her first name.

  7. Yeah, we can agree that Flor was hot. But I’m married and not supposed to notice those things when I’m watching movies.

  8. Geoff,

    True. I bet your relationship with your wife if slightly more rewarding than my imaginary ones with kate and flor. I have to go now, though; Kate gets mad if I don’t call her at lunchtime.

  9. Saying The Family Man was believable and nuanced… Ugh. I’ll have to think about that for a while. Personally I think it was a typical Brett Ratner film. Manipulative and largely by the numbers. I’m really worried about what he’s going to do with the new X-Men film.

    Spanglish was manipulative, but I thought it was OK. What I liked was that the two main characters refused to commit adultery, even though the nutso wife might have seemed to have justified it. They chose the welfare of their children, subjugating their own feelings. Choosing the right in that case is such a rare thing. Likewise I thought the main character was more nuanced. He clearly was very loyal, but was very conflicted as well.

    As for real characters not being like the characters in that movie. I guess we all want complex characters who are more of a mix, but I tend to think those sorts of characters are more rare in the real world. Although, as I said, I thought the main character was interesting. Not a great movie, but far better than I was expecting from it.

  10. This movie reminded me of another similar movie from about 12-15 years ago, “Mr. Destiny.” In that movie, Jim Belushi’s character goes from middle-class with boring wife to upper-management with a sexy wife (Rene Russo), thanks to a preemptive wish granting by an unknown stranger. I think both movies failed.

    I really liked Spanglish and thought too many people missed the point of the entire movie.

  11. I remember the first time I saw “Family Man”. It had been a very difficult week with the kids, and I remember thinking to myself that Jack was crazy not to be overjoyed upon his return to his quiet, single life- I mean sure he could have occasionally been temporarily sad because of some of what he was missing out on, but I remember thinking that he would have to be certifiably insane to really miss all the troubles brought about by raising children.

    I must have been temporarily insane myself.

  12. I liked Family Man. I loved Spanglish. I don’t know what you mean when you say it is “the definition of manipulative”. I certainly noticed that the Sandler character was falling in love with a woman other than his wife, and the first time I saw it, I was in tension that it would lead to the typical Hollywood amoral message of “follow your heart”. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that it recognized both the complexity of real relationships and the reality that sometimes successful families are held together in their weakest moments by sheer committment. And I didn’t feel that any of the characters were two-dimensional.

    I actually found the characters more realistic and believable in Spanglish than in Family Man. Family Man was more formulaic, while Spanglish was compelling because of the strength of the characters and the unpredictability of their solutions to problems that have no easy answers. But each person has their own taste in movies.

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