"Come back George Bailey. We miss you." If that sentiment was never stated, it was certainly implied throughout the new Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni film, "The Family Man." Hollywood seems to be trying to recapture the magic of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life."
Despite it's shamelessly plagiaristic strokes, I found the movie delightful. Yes, no one can be Jimmy Stewart but J-J-Jimmy Stewart, but Cage makes a good alternative playing the lead character, Jack Campbell. Tea Leoni isn't Donna Reed, but she is a believably devoted wife ala Mary Bailey.
The plot of the film is the mirror image of "It's a Wonderful Life." Instead of a man who has given up career for family, we have a man who has given up family for career. Whereas George had a chance to see what would have been had he never existed, Campbell gets to see what his life would have been had he become the family man. However, in both films the upshot is the same. Career is fine for those who pursue success in that arena, but personal greatness of character-with love-is better.
Some of the allusions to "It's A Wonderful Life" are subtle. For instance, Cage gets a chance to interview for a job with his former Wall Street boss. The scene is reminiscent of Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter trying to hire the young George Bailey. Only in this case the family man is pursuing the movie's Mr. Potter.
Other parallels are so blatant that only the pop-culturally-impaired could miss them. Instead of Clarence the angel we get a supernaturally non-descript character who either curses or blesses Jack (we're not sure which) with his "glimpse" of an alternate reality. The signal for this specter to return is the ringing of a bell. The bell may not have anything to do with earning wings, but it is a nice cameo for an inanimate object. Kudos aside, the film has some objectionable material. Whereas Donna Reed only got naked behind an opaque bush, Tea Leoni gets naked behind a translucent shower door. George Bailey teased little Mary Hatch (and the viewer) about the possibilities of the circumstances. Cage indulges himself and the viewer with a protracted voyeuristic glimpse.
Apparently Universal Studios needed the bit of skin along with some innuendo to get the PG13 rating. That was probably a marketing decision, which in the end may backfire. After all, the movie attempts to profit from the same desire for genuine goodness that made "It's A Wonderful Life" so beloved. Did it really need a little "schmutz" to attract viewers? Hardly.
If you can overlook the brief shower scene, (or not look as the case may be), the movie has a lot of redeeming value. "The Family Man" proves a point. Hollywood elites love to make their big budget, anti-family flops to appease their politically correct consciences. For their wallet's sake, however, they know that the ticket buying public lives in Bedford Falls.