Today’s Women Who Wow Wednesday feature has not one, but two women who wow! If you haven’t seen The Family, grab yourself a copy and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned dark comedy.
Not wanting to spoil it for anyone, I’ll only give you a general idea of the film’s premise.
Set in the quiet climes of Normandy, France, the Blake family relocates to what appears as an interesting square-peg-in-a-round-hole situation. Written and directed by Luc Besson, the writer and director of Léon: The Professional, the audience has some pieces to put together before the true picture of the film reveals itself.
Starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Maggie Blake, the pragmatic mom of the family, she proves right away that she can be a handful. As soon as they move into the new digs, her first remark to her husband Fred (Robert DeNiro) is, “It’s cold here.” He quickly says, “I’ll make a fire. Okay? I’ll make a fire.” That’s power.
First things first, Maggie walks into town and she finds the village folk aren’t so nice. All she asked for was where she could find the peanut butter in a small market. The owner didn’t have to speak French behind her back thinking she only knew English. He didn’t have to allow his customers to diss on the Americans, “They liberated us in ’44 but ever since they’ve overrun us.” And he didn’t have to say, “They eat burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Not at all.
Of course, Maggie, being the practical person she is fixes the situation the best way she knows how. She bombs the place.
Then there’s Belle Blake (Dianna Agron), the daughter. A genuine belle. Blond, blue eyes, and incredibly attractive. Every male in the new school can’t help but turn his head in appreciation of her great looks. Every male, that is, including the idiots. She gets into a car with four idiots who thought they could drive her to a park and take advantage of her. Little do they know she grew up in tougher neighborhoods. When one of them decides to slip the shoulder strap from her dress and says, “Oops,” she smiles. They smile back. After all, they unloaded the car to have a picnic.
Now to Belle, being American and all, what picnic would it be without tennis? Right? She pulls the racquet from the trunk of the car and beats the crap out of the boy with the sticky fingers. Her solution.
The women of The Family are not ordinary women. Not at all. They have a way with making things work, even if situations are unworkable. They don’t take flak from anyone and they always, always get what they want. What’s more beautiful than a woman who knows what she wants?
Besides, they look like girls who can get things done.
Ignored as a date, Karen gives him another chance. Couldn’t stand him, obnoxious, fidgeting around—that’s what she thinks of her future husband. Promises to meet him again on a Friday night and he stands her up.
“You’ve got some nerve standing me up. Nobody does that to me. Who do you think you are, Frankie Valli or some kind of big shot?”
Henry Hill tries reasoning with her telling her he thought it was the following Friday.
“It was this Friday and you agreed, so you’re a liar!”
On their first date, Henry takes Karen on a whirlwind trip through the service entrance of the fanciest restaurant in town. A special table at the front, fine food, a live show with the king of the one-liners, she didn’t know what to think. Henry pays for everything in cash. They even have Bobby Vinton sending them a bottle of the finest champagne.
One day, Karen calls Henry, screaming the boy across the street pushed her out of a car when she wouldn’t respond to his advances.
“He started to touch me. He started to grab me. I told him to stop. He didn’t stop. I hit him back. And then he got really angry.”
Henry takes care of it. He marches across the street and pistol-whips the boy ten times, breaking the kid’s nose. To make his point, after having some words with him, Henry pounds the kid one last time.
“I know there are women, like my best friends who would have gotten out the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I’ve got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”
The couple marries and things change quickly. She realizes she’d married into two families.
“We weren’t married to nine-to-five guys. But the first time I realized how different was when Mickey had a hostess party. They had bad skin and wore too much makeup. They didn’t look very good. They looked beat-up. They talked about how rotten their kids were and about beating them with broom handles and belts. When Henry picked me up, I was dizzy. I don’t know if I could live like that.”
Whatever Karen thinks of her new family, she reasons around the quirks.
“Being together all the time made everything seem all the more normal.”
What normal is, is what normal does.
“We always did everything together, and we always were in the same crowd. Anniversaries, christenings. We only went to each other’s houses.”
And this is where I come in. I write my Women Who Wow Wednesday series in the context of strong women who stand on their own two feet. Fighters, if you will, who aren’t afraid of taking on someone or something greater than themselves. Although Goodfellas comes from a true story, characterization of real people is inevitable. Karen Hill falls into that category.
For a while, she plays by the rules, respecting her husband, keeping the status quo with his crew. But it’s that ability to think for herself that gets her in trouble. More to the point, her ability to go against the flow makes her unique. In a world of murder, deceit and betrayal, Karen demonstrates a strong conviction to do what she thinks is right.
When a murder attempt on Michael’s father goes bad, Kay doesn’t reappear until a year after Michael returns from his exile in Italy. She meets him for the first time not knowing he’s changed. His heart has grown cold from witnessing the death of his first wife, Apollonia, who he’d met in Italy and had later died in a car bomb explosion meant for him. Kay agrees to marry her longtime love, Michael, after he promises her his family’s business will become legitimate within five years.
During the baptism of his sister’s first child, Connie’s husband disappears. Murdered. Kay approaches Michael about it. He refuses to answer her question of whether he had anything to do with it. She doesn’t back down. He explodes, “Enough!” Moments later, he cedes to her curiosity. Just this once. She asks again if he knows anything about Connie’s husband. No, is his flat reply.
Liar. And she knows it.
As the door closes on a chapter in the life of the new godfather, Kay realizes Michael has her trapped.
An associate’s plot to murder Michael brings out the worst in everyone. Kay has already been stewing about his part in the death of Connie’s husband, and to make matters worse, she’s pregnant with his third child. Her attitude toward him has been less than enthusiastic. His long absences and lies have also taken a toll on Kay. She appears older and stoic. However, she continues with loving her children in spite of Michael’s business dealings.
Throughout Michael’s ascent to power, Kay has watched him selfishly turn inward to a nub of the man he never wanted to become. She understands she made a mistake marrying him and wants out. But, how to tell him? He’s the head of one of the most ruthless crime families in all of the U.S., there’s no way he’d take the news of her wanting to leave without a fight. At the same time, she miscarries.
Yet, she gathers her belongings, packs the kids and approaches her soon-to-be former husband. In a heated argument guaranteed to get her killed, she stands up to the crime boss telling him of her intentions to leave, wanting to take the children with her.
He will not have it. She will not take the kids. Ever.
In a bold move to assert her own control, Kay reveals the child she said she’d miscarried she instead had aborted. She couldn’t see herself rearing another Corleone in Michael’s world. Yes, it was a boy.
Without warning, Michael unleashes a slap that Kay absorbs in horror.
Soon after, she no longer is part of the family; even loosing her children to their father’s misshaped view of life. But as with anything that ever happens, something positive always comes from it. She no longer has to deal with the days of loneliness behind the confines of the four walls of her home. She’s also free from pretending anymore to love her husband who has been nothing but an overbearing, domineering man obsessed with control over every aspect of her life. And she can now live a life of freedom. Free from her husband’s lies. Free from her husband’s anger.
Years later, when Michael and Kay meet again, this conversation takes place:
Michael Corleone: I spent my life protecting my son. I spent my life protecting my family! Kay Let’s be reasonable here, Michael. I mean, that’s your big thing, isn’t it? Reason backed up by murder. Michael Corleone: Oh, God, you hate me. You hate me. Kay: No, I don’t hate you, Michael. I dread you. Michael Corleone: I did what I could, Kay, to protect all of you from the horrors of this world. Kay: But you became my horror.
Was it worth it for Kay to have gone against the family in such a way? Do you think she initially lived a life naïve of her husband’s deceptive ways?