Wall Street heavyweight and confirmed bachelor Jack Campbell is given the chance to see how different his life would have been had he married his college sweetheart, Kate, 13 years earlier. In the alternative reality he's a happy family man with two children, but given the opportunity to live the other life, which would he chose?
Picking up on similar themes to It's A Wonderful Life (1946) , The Family Man begins on Christmas Eve, with a man seemingly happy with his life, yet given the chance to see how different it all could have been.
It is, without a doubt, Nic Cage's film. As Jack, he is in every scene and if you're a fan, there's much to enjoy here. He gives a nicely understated performance, managing to be close to the edge without going over the top. His would-be wife, Tea Leoni, is so damned perfect it's hard to see why Jack, for much of the film, finds his alternative reality so unappealing. His kids aren't on screen enough to be annoying and there are clever scenes in which they coach him on adapting to fatherhood. Where the film really succeeds is in avoiding what could have been some horrible cloying moments - Cage's Jack is grounded enough to keep sentimentality at bay.
But despite all these plus points, so much is left underdeveloped that it becomes a distraction. An evil businessman called Sidney Potter is mentioned, which those looking for a Wonderful Life link may expect to be taken further, but he's never mentioned again. Jack's "alternative" best friend is the excellent Jeremy Piven, but he disappears half-way through the story, as does a women Jack proposes having an affair with.
Other sub-plots are set up and ignored - the businesses in both realities are in crises that aren't resolved, Jack is told he can't afford to spend much money as a family man and then splashes out what would be several months income on a night out with no repercussions. But, toughest call of all, it's hard to tell which life Jack really prefers, which means the film lacks the rip-roaring finish that would make it a true feel-good movie.
This is exactly the kind of adult fantasy you want to see at Christmas and, as such, it's highly enjoyable entertainment. But there's just something lacking that makes it less satisfying than it could be: too many plot question marks, and a conclusion that, while hopeful, is hardly the uplifting emotional finish the film so badly needs.