Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) has it all. A cushy job, a penthouse apartment (with a doorman!), expensive suits, and beautiful women ready to warm his bed. The one thing he doesn’t have is a family, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Work is his priority, and that becomes quite evident as he keeps his staff working late on Christmas Eve, and then plans to have them come in for a strategy meeting on Christmas Day to nail down an extremely profitable merger.
As his staff runs off home to their families, Jack opts to walk back to his apartment and stops in a small convenience store to buy some egg nog. This leads to a chance encounter with a man – angel? – looking to cash in his winning lotto ticket. Their conversation concludes with Jack insisting there is nothing he needs in life, as he has everything he wants, and the man, named Cash, tells Jack that be brought what is about to happen upon himself.
The next morning Jack wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar home in New Jersey. There is an unfamiliar child jumping on the bed excited for Christmas morning, but the woman he wakes up with is a familiar face – Kate, his college girlfriend who he had planned on marrying before leaving her for a year-long internship in London. Jack panics, rightly so, and flees back to New York, where no one who should know him has any clue who he is. Cash shows up to explain to Jack that he’s been given a “glimpse” into what his life would have been like had he not left Kate in the airport that fateful day. The glimpse will end… well, when it’s meant to. So Jack just needs to buck up and do his best.
The Family Man is very much in the same vein as It’s a Wonderful Life, except where George Bailey got to experience what the world would have been like had he never been born, Jack Campbell gets to discover how differently his life could have been had he chosen love over money. Whereas George is frightened and appalled at the state of Bedford Falls without his influence, Jack is appalled at dirty diapers, a house in Jersey and working for his father in law’s tire store. It takes a while, but once Jack is able to look past his superficial desires, he begins to truly appreciate how fulfilling his life is with Kate and their children.
I’ve never been a huge Nic Cage fan, but he gives a great performance here as Jack. He plays Jack’s transition from greedy and cynical to open and loving with ease and he has impressive comedic timing. Tea Leoni truly shines as Kate. She’s headstrong and so charming that you just can’t understand how Jack could have left her standing there in that airport at the beginning of the movie. It helps that Leoni and Cage also have amazing chemistry, playing a couple that is so clearly still in love even after thirteen years of marriage and two kids.
The supporting cast is just as good, especially Don Cheadle, who plays Cash. Unfortunately, some of the supporting characters disappear halfway through the film – Evelyn (Lisa Thornhill) wants to have an affair with Jack, but after asking him to come over that weekend while her husband is out of town, she is never heard from again. The same goes for Jeremy Piven, who plays Jack’s best friend in Jersey. Those particular storylines are never wrapped up.
Are there some formulaic plot points here? Yes. Typical Christmas themes of family being a greater gift than money and frivolous items? Absolutely. But they’re all executed so well that I didn’t even mind it. I just loved the premise – who of us hasn’t wondered “what if” before? and I found the movie to be romantic and heartwarming with just the right amount of humor. The Family Man is such an uplifting movie with a not-so-predictable ending that I truly believe this is an underrated holiday film.