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.