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Married to the Mob (Jonathan Demme) 1988   

    Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob strikes me as the best of his 80’s comedies. It’s probably also the most crass of them (odd, since it is the last one he produced), but I think its crudeness works to its advantage. The three comedies that Demme made in that decade (including this, Melvin and Howard, and Something Wild) show a director that was able to address serious concerns well before the nineties saw him become a “serious” director (making Beloved and Philadelphia). I wouldn’t want to suggest Married to the Mob is in any way a serious movie. It’s a completely, wonderfully frivolous exercise, that happens to be capable of spinning the sense of a threat into itself. The mob is mostly played for jokes here, but that doesn’t make the movie’s gangsters feel much less dangerous than those in The Godfather. Certainly, there seems to be a lot more at stake, both emotionally and physically, than in the tepid Analyze This. The way that Demme brilliantly used fragments of African American music and culture to suggest an energy that awaits those who are willing to step to the side of their humdrum existence in Something Wild, which had no black main characters, is repeated here. That sort of positive stereotyping is probably a good part of the reason he eventually found himself mounting Oprah’s production of Beloved  

    As I mentioned before, most of Married to the Mob doesn’t have a lot to overtly say, however. The story is a relatively pedestrian chronicle of mob wife Angela DeMarco’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) journey toward independence, but there are few moments that feel stupidly manipulative. Much of the film’s satiric edge sends up even her attempts to gain freedom, which she apparently defines as gathering an amalgamation of trinkets that she hopes will lend definition to her life. The film’s art direction is more integral than usual here, since Angela starts out in a world that’s filled with plenty of money and plenty of bad taste, but causes her to exclaim, “everything we own fell off of a truck!” The way that the movie equates possessions with self-worth is rock-solid commentary on 80’s consumerism. This needling of the need to accumulate is roughly the same theme that fueled Melvin and Howard, but it feels as if it’s been made much less explicit and more relaxed here, and that easygoing attitude helps the comedy along. Still, the greatest assets in the film might be the universally solid performances that Demme gets from his actors. In my estimation, the standout is Matthew Modine, who makes his FBI agent a completely affable dork. That he, who seems to be in another movie entirely (think classic screwball comedy) than the rest of the cast, emerges as the romantic lead is as surprising as it is inevitable. Solid turns from Pfeiffer, Dean Stockwell, Mercedes Ruehl (who is like a live action Miss Piggy), and even Alec Baldwin round out the cast. 

* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman