When I got into “Family therapy” this was NOT the family I had in mind…
The film from the opening credits has a very nostalgic feeling, – perhaps something not only to attribute to the black and white opening sequence, but also perhaps somewhat regarding the fact that this film about a gangster (which as per usual stars Robert De Niro) opens with a voiceover discussing the year of 1957, in a way strangely reminiscent to the film ‘Goodfellas’ of nine years prior.
Before I get into any nitty gritty detail I’m going to mention a factor so noticeable it can hardly be swept under the carpet; the plot. A mob boss who sees a psychiatrist after suffering panic attacks? I know what you’re thinking, – “haven’t we seen this before?”, but before you can even say the name ‘Tony Soprano’, I’ll remind you that they were released around the same time, so lets just call this an uncanny coincidence.
Billy Crystal the psychiatrist, who in his first scene is annoyingly nice to his patient whilst at the same time fantasising about telling her the truth that she’s got to stop whining and that she’s the “tragedy Queen” is just asking for somebody to come into his practice who may be a bit more of a challenge. Someone a little more exciting than the women who frequent his office to talk about their failed relationships amongst other trivial things (in comparison to what he’s got in store). The film wouldn’t be what it is without the two central characters who are total opposites but work incredibly well together; on Paul Vitti’s (De Niro) first interaction with Crystal he says what is possibly the funniest line of the entire film: “If I talk to you and you turn me into a fag, I’ll kill you! I go fag, you die.” The film is a treat to the audience with multiple laugh out loud occasions during the run of the film, as well as characters that allow the audience to feel genuinely invested in, which is a rarity for a film classified in the comedy genre, which is famous for underdeveloped characters, and more often than not, forced stale, and obvious jokes, all things that luckily don’t apply to this film.
The film boasts excellent comic timing and doesn’t try too hard for laughs. The humour is allowed to evolve naturally resulting in a genuinely funny film. De Niro portrays Paul Vitti almost as a parody of his other gangster roles in his career, this makes for a film which borders on drama whilst still managing to reward the audience with humour which doesn’t ever resort to gangster stereotypes and instead relies on quality acting and good character development. There are a handful of memorable comic moments throughout the film, most notably when Crystal is made to try and pass himself off as a wiseguy only to find that he can’t even pronounce the word “Consigliere”. The humour in the film isn’t the most crucial aspect of the picture, as the characters work, however on saying this, there is a dream sequence which is an obvious parody of the Godfather which in my opinion they get down to a T.
The interaction between the actors is above all else what makes this film work. This is a film which doesn’t take itself too seriously, however the result is an intelligent alternative to the dire and flimsy parody of the likes of ‘Mafia!’ and a comedic alternative to the gritty realism of the likes of ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Mean Streets’, I rate this film a strong 7 out of 10!