The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

The Family Man (2000)
Directed by Brett Ratner
Rated PG-13
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
Part It’s A Wonderful Life, part A Christmas Carol, in this film Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage) is a high-powered Wall Street broker who seemingly has everything, except perhaps the love he eschewed 13 years earlier.  One fateful Christmas Eve he unknowingly encounters an Angel, who decides to test him. He wakes up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed, in an unfamiliar house, in an unfamiliar town, with an unfamiliar family…but a very familiar woman next to him (Tea Leoni).  Given a glimpse into what his life could have been had he chosen love over career 13 years earlier, will he discover that the seemingly less glamorous path is really the more wonderful life after all? And will he be able to find happiness when he has to return to his real life?

Beneath the Surface
Like any good ‘what if?’ fable, the main dilemma of the story usually hangs on one central choice and the two divergent paths that could possibly have sprung from it. Each choice can usually be named symbolically. In the case of The Family Man, it’s career (greed) vs. relationship (love). In most ‘what if?’ scenarios, one choice is generally inherently worse than the other, and each choice is usually displayed in very contrasting lights. What’s very interesting in this movie is that the supposed morally ‘bankrupt’ choice of greed really isn’t shown poorly. Sure, Jack doesn’t have love in his life. But he’s a good man–if a bit shallow–and he even selflessly intervenes during a convenience store hold-up. He’s driven in his career–giving up Christmas to broker a big deal–but he isn’t the nightmare boss that is usually portrayed in these situations. If anything, he’s just unaware of how truly empty and unhappy his life is.

Likewise, when shown his life in the ‘good’ choice, love is also illuminated in ambiguous tones (though certainly more positive than negative). He has a great wife and family, but he’s still tempted to stray from monogamy; the family struggles a bit financially, as he’s had to make a living as a tire salesman. Even as he’s adjusting to his new life and learning to love it more than his old one, he endeavors to secure the job from his former life, and goes about getting it in a manner befitting his old life. The message: sure, love is grand and more important than money…but money is still important. Kate (Leoni) flips out as Jack tries to change their lives, yet ultimately supports him, simply saying: “I choose us.” Disappointingly, we never quite see what Jack ultimately decides (ironically, another ‘what if?’ choice left unanswered), as he returns to his previous life before he has to make it. However, we quite clearly see that he prefers this life of diapers and ballet classes and bowling leagues to his former life of Porsches and designer suits and $800 bottles of wine.

The measured and balanced portrayal of the opposing forces is refreshing to see in this type of movie that might traditionally lean for a more black and white lesson. Ultimately, love does win, as it should. But Jack’s Scrooge-like transformation is more a matter of degree, not type. When he returns to his real life, he’s not a new man; just a man with a new purpose.


Cocoa Factor = 7 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 9 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 8 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 9 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 8 out of 10


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

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