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Film / The Family Man

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"Don't screw up the best thing in your life just because you're a little unsure about who you are."

The Family Man is a 2000 fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Brett Ratner and starring Nicolas Cage, Téa Leoni, and Don Cheadle.

Cage plays Jack Campbell, a wealthy, high-powered Wall Street broker who, after getting—and dismissing—a phone message from his old college girlfriend Kate (Leoni) on Christmas Eve, ponders what might have been. He then has a fateful encounter with a young stranger named Cash (Cheadle), who asks Jack if there's anything missing in his life and—being answered in the negative—magically sends him to an Alternate Universe in which he and Kate got married, had kids, and settled down into a lower-middle-class existence in (horrors!) New Jersey. By the end, Jack learns that living a quiet but happy family life may be preferable to achieving success and wealth at work.

Similar to It's a Wonderful Life, both in its story and thematic elements and its holiday setting, the film received mixed critical reviews but was a box-office success. In 2023, a South Korean remake called Switch was released with the same premise, except the protagonist is a successful actor rather than a stockbroker.

Not to be confused with the Family Guy. Also, the Alternate Universe Jack Campbell goes straight to this trope and the film title.

This film includes examples of:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Annie.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Alan Mintz. Despite his character's name and appearance and the fact that he is played by Saul Rubinek, he complains that Jack is making him miss Christmas with his family.
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • At the outset, Kate worries that her and Jack's relationship will be irreparably hurt if he takes a one-year banking internship. He tries to convince her that this is good for both of them, and he will never stop loving her. Since they clearly broke up at some point that year, and both of them went on to be wealthy, childless singletons, Kate was in the movie's moral right all along.
    • Kate also has this attitude in Jack's glimpse: She opposes Jack's pursuit of a finance job in New York from the very beginning and will not hear of leaving behind their comfortable, if dull, suburban life. She does agree to try it after that, but Jack decides to let them keep the life she prefers instead.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Arnie indicates that he and Jack live in Union County, New Jersey. However, signs around town indicate that they live in or near Teaneck in Bergen County, which is not contiguous to Union County.
  • Asian Store-Owner: At the convenience store where Jack and Cash first meet.
  • Best Friend: Arnie, to Jack.
  • Big Fancy House: Jack shows Kate the one being offered to him as a perk of joining the New York City investment house.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Lucy, the Campbell family's Mastiff mix.
  • Big Fun: Bill, Jack and Arnie's overweight, piano-playing neighbor.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends at an airport.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Jack almost tells Kate the truth about his glimpse. Mid-sentence, he changes his mind and tells her that he feels like he is living someone else's life.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bicycle bell that Cash gives Jack, who knows his glimpse is coming to an end when he hears Annie ringing it.
  • Color Motif: The first time we see Kate as she is saying goodbye to Jack at the airport, she is wearing a multicolored sweater, symbolizing the conflicting emotions in the scene. Throughout Jack's glimpse, she wears a variety of soft solid colors, symbolizing her contentment with her happy family life. When he finally reconnects with her in the real-life present, she is dressed in head-to-toe black, symbolizing the aggressive, career-driven nature she has developed since she and Jack were last together.
  • Cool Car: Jack's Ferrari and Peter's Rolls-Royce.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jack Campbell's boss kinda comes across as such; he even jokes about the idea.
  • Courtly Love: The "quasi-sexual witty banter" between Jack and his neighbor is a downplayed version.
    Jack: So, when are you going to leave that old corpse, Mr. Peterson, and run away with me?
    Mrs. Peterson: You know you could never satisfy me the way he does.
    Jack: Ah.
  • Cue the Rain: Frozen version: Jack's glimpse begins and ends with gently falling snow.
  • The Diaper Change: Complete with a Tinkle in the Eye.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Subverted by the end of the film.
  • The Dutiful Son: Son-in-law, technically. The reason Jack works at Big Ed's Tires is because his father-in-law needed his support following a heart attack.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Effective Knockoff: Kate finds a perfect off-brand copy of the Ermenegildo Zegna suit that Jack had been admiring.
  • Family Man: A successful but lonely businessman who has a What If? scenario in which he has a family with his ex-girlfriend from college instead being a successful man he is now.
  • Family Versus Career:
    • Jack is a rare male example of this dilemma.
    • The real-life Kate has also made this choice, becoming a high-powered corporate lawyer who has yet to marry or have children.
    • Subverted with Alan Mintz. In real life, he has both, but struggles to balance them; in Jack's glimpse, he seems to be better at integrating the two.
    • Averted with P.K. Lassiter, who happily chooses his career every time and only seems to have affection for his horses.
  • Fancy Dinner:
    Jack: We'll have the terrine of quail breast with shiitake mushrooms to start, then the veal medallions in raspberry truffle sauce, and the sea scallops with puréed artichoke hearts.
  • Figure It Out Yourself: Cash dumps Jack into an alternate life with no information whatsoever about his life, job, etc. So Kate thinks right away that Jack is acting horribly when he forgets their anniversary, doesn't know how to communicate with her, etc. Part of it is that Jack just wants to get back to his own life (initially), but it also stems from the fact he simply doesn't know anything about this new life.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: Understandable under the circumstances. Jack makes up for it with a Fancy Dinner in The City.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The entire meaning of Jack's alternate life, or glimpse. What if he stayed with his girlfriend Kate in the United States rather than travel to London to jumpstart his career in finance?
  • Freak Out: It wouldn't be a Nicolas Cage movie without a couple.
    • When he wakes up as the husband of Kate and the father of Annie and Josh and has no idea what to make of the situation.
    • When blaming Kate for letting him give up on his dreams of fabulous success in business.
      All right, look, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was such a saint before and I'm such a PRICK now! But maybe I'm just not the same guy that I was when we got married!
  • Girls Love Chocolate:
    • Annie feels better about the glimpse version of Jack after he assures her that he can learn how to make chocolate milk.
      Jack: Let me know if there's enough chocolate in there, sweetheart.
      Annie: (sips) Mmm. Not bad.
    • Kate eats a piece of chocolate cake that Jack had been coveting.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Big Ed, who sounds and dresses like a Deep South denizen despite being from suburban New Jersey.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Peterson, Jack's fur-coated, puppy-carrying neighbor.
  • Happier Home Movie: Jack watches one in which he serenades Kate at her birthday party in front of the entire neighborhood.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jack, though he wasn't a really evil guy to begin with.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf:
    • Jack, during performances of "La donna è mobile" (complete with Air Guitar) and "La La La Means I Love You".
    • Kate, while singing "Beast of Burden".
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Kate regales the Christmas party guests with a story of receiving one of these.
  • Hyperventilation Bag: Cash gives one to Jack.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Jack goes straight for the liquor at Evelyn's Christmas party.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: An Inversion. Jack is shown how much fuller and happier his life would be had he stayed with his girlfriend after college rather than moving to London and starting his rich-but-lonely life and career as a high-powered stockbroker.
  • It's Cuban: Averted; Jack's friend Nick offers American-made cigars at the Christmas party.
  • Lethal Chef: Evelyn. Her attempt to seduce Jack by shoving a homemade mushroom puff into his mouth fails as soon as he tastes it.
  • Literally Loving Thy Neighbor: Evelyn makes it clear to Jack that she would like the two of them to engage in this.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Jack dozes off while Kate is dressing for sex.
  • Lonely at the Top: Jack's life after moving to London in 1987, although he doesn't realize it until he's shown what might have been had he not embarked on his high-powered Wall Street career.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Averted; Jack and Kate's youthful attempt to have one of these clearly did not succeed.
  • Magical Negro: Cash is the black man who sends Jack to a What If? universe to show him what his life might have been if he had taken different choices. It's never stated, though implied, that he's Jack's guardian angel.
  • Married to the Job: In Jack's original life, he didn't really have anything outside of his job as a high-level Wall Street executive. He even spends Christmas night alone because he doesn't have anywhere to go. His boss plays this straight too, though he proudly claims that it's because he's simply a heartless bastard.
  • Maybe Ever After: Jack experiences what his life would have been like if he had married his college girlfriend Kate, causing him to realize that he's Lonely at the Top in his job as a Wall Street executive. He tracks down Kate, who is in town for only a few days, to make a heartfelt confession about the life he saw they had together. She takes him up on his offer of a cup of coffee to talk things over, but it's left ambiguous if they will become a couple. Even if they do, their life would obviously still be very different from the "glimpse" that the angel showed Jack.
  • Misery Builds Character: After Jack suffers the pain of losing the glimpse of a loving wife and family, he finally begins to lose his single-minded career focus.
  • Mistaken for Aliens: Annie thinks Jack is an alien who has taken the place of her real father. Jack runs with it so she will help him assimilate to his new life.
    Annie: Welcome to Earth.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Kate groggily asks for "strong coffee" on Christmas morning.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Jack is on a first-name basis with the security guards at his apartment building and his office.
  • Opinion-Changing Dream: A mysterious man named Cash shows Jack an alternate life where he chose to start a family with his college girlfriend Kate rather than become a Wall Street executive who doesn't yet realize he's Lonely at the Top. Cash describes this as a "glimpse" and thus only temporary, but Jack does wake up in the same place and time before the glimpse began, his downtown bachelor's apartment. The experience leads him to track down Kate and reconnect with her after by giving a heartfelt description of the life he saw they had together.
  • Retail Therapy: After losing his patience with a particularly long trip to the mall, Jack visits the men's department at Bloomingdale's for some of this. Soon after, however, he reaches his Rage Breaking Point after Kate refuses to let him buy the $2,400 suit he is trying on.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Jack, at first. His standards decline considerably during his glimpse.
  • Shower Scene: Kate is Singing in the Shower before her husband Jack interrupts her. Since from Jack's point of view he hasn't seen her in years, he is quite taken aback by seeing her nude.
  • Smug Snake: The alternate version of Alan Mintz. He actually tries to appear intimidating to Jack, who from his perspective is just some upstart or even a fraud looking to hit it big, but since Jack already knows Alan as a timid coworker in the real world, he just laughs in his face.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Jack views his job at Big Ed's Tires this way.
    I... spend eight hours a day selling tires retail. Retail, Kate.
  • Suburbia: Jack spends much of his glimpse trying to get used to life here. After Kate rejects his efforts to relocate the family to The City, he finally makes peace with their New Jersey home.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Kate, who resists all of Jack's attempts to improve upon their solid but dull life in middle-class suburbia.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Jack gets one from his alternate-universe buddy Arnie when Jack wants to have a fling with another woman coming onto him (Jack thinks this is OK because this isn't his life, so Kate isn't really his wife). Arnie reminds him how much all of his friends are envious that Jack is happily married to someone like Kate and that he shouldn't "fuck up" the best thing to ever happen to him.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The Kevin Sorbo movie What If... follows this plotline almost exactly, except the lead male—who is engaged to another woman before he has his glimpse—gave up his faith in addition to the life he could have had with his ex.
  • Workaholic: Jack, who often expects his co-workers to match his addiction at the expense of their personal lives.