‘Mafia Mamma’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Did Kristin Stay On As Donna Balbano?

Drawn in by Toni Collette’s undeniable gift and just the very existence of Monica Bellucci, there’s not a single second when I wasn’t thoroughly amused by Catherine Harwicke’s action-comedy Mafia Mamma. It takes a hell of a lot of gusto to pull off something that has been attempted and crushed by multiple genres—and that too by making a go of it against the risky backdrop of an immensely exaggerated Italian stereotype. Believe me when I say that I was relieved to get through it without seeing one Italian hand gesture joke. And that is not even the most impossible mission that Mafia Mamma has overcome. Amongst a flood of cringe-inducing action comedies that are too coy for bloodshed and too restrained by their self-consciousness to strike up a relevant conversation with their sense of humor, Harwicke’s Mafia Mamma strikes a home run with its fearless bits of gore and makes you giggle through our heroine’s rite of passage.

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Spoilers Ahead


Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Mafia Mamma’?

Completely defeated by life, Kristin mourns the emptiness that her kid Nicky had left behind when he went off to college. Although, judging by the way he cheers for his freedom as he gets into the car that will take him away from his home, I wonder if Kristin hasn’t been a bit of a smother mother. But you would cut her all the slack in the world when you get a closer look at how tremendously unfulfilled her life has been. Putting everyone else’s needs before her own has left Kristin with a marriage from which intimacy has been AWOL for the last three years. But what else would a marriage be with man-child Paul, well into his 40s and still hoping for his mediocre band to take off? The only happiness in Kristin’s life is getting a questionable kick out of Italian cooking videos. Her job as a writer for a beauty pharmaceuticals company is made intolerable by her staggeringly misogynistic boss and equally insufferable testosterone-y coworkers, whose only idea of gripping advertising are conventionally attractive people on jet skis. Never feeling the urge to do something just for herself has made Kristin not even consider taking a flight to Italy when she gets a call from a certain Bianca stating that her grandfather is dead. That is, until Kristin catches her cheating loser of a husband red-handed, and the lukewarm, peaceful life she thought she had turned upside down. 

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How Does Kristin Become A Mafia Boss?

It’s hard for Kristin to turn down the offer from the ever-so-charming Bianca when she finds out that she is the sole inheritor of one of the two significant crime families in Italy. Sure, she would have loved to explore her passion for being a vintner and would have had a jolly time squashing away the grape barrels, but taking on the mantle as the boss while their rivals, the Romanos, are trying to kill them all may be a bit much for her. Living a quiet American life has made it impossible for Kristin to even imagine being the Donna Balbano that her dead grandpa and his advisor Bianca are hoping for her to be. But a destroyed phone and a sneaky desire to see what comes of it give Kristin the push she needs to meet up with Carlo Romano and commence a peace deal. The trouble is that Kristin enjoys being validated by beautiful men, and it’s something that the gorgeous Carlo uses as an advantageous way to try to eliminate her. The rush that Kristin gets out of accidentally killing Carlo with the same weapon that he meant to use on her, however much she may deny it, strengthens her urge to hold on a little longer as the brand-new mafia boss of the Balbano family. I doubt that she feels as thwarted by the chopped-off, 4-star-ish plated hand that her cousins and bodyguards prepare as a message to the Romanos clan. From the looks of it, being a mafia boss is just like learning how to swim. When she’s pushed into the deep waters of a life of crime without a life preserver, Kristin finally discovers her full potential, and the rage that has been burrowing within her sees the light of day. She’s practically magnificent as she tortures the best killer sent by the Romanos. She’s absolutely graceful as she balances her benevolent instincts and her criminal identity, turns the wave of the hereditary (oops, that was an unintended pun) crime, and starts a business that makes medication available for people at a reasonable price. Standing as the very epitome of how the world might work under the peaceful rule of a sensible woman, Kristin completely transforms the very landscape of her family’s reign, and the vineyards are once again bountiful with the fruit of a better future.


‘Mafia Mamma’ Ending Explained: What Makes Kristin Stay On As Donna Balbano?

No journey worth taking has ever been easy. The odd job of being a mafia queen fell into Kristin’s lap as unexpectedly as the start of her  enjoyment of her new gig. But it takes a while to break toxic patterns of behavior and personality. Kristin has always prioritized everyone else over herself. Sure, she has come a long way, from a person who was too soft to kill a bug to a warrior who kills bad people. And yet she still struggles to put herself first when her ne’er-do-well husband shows up to squeeze some money out of her again. She’s forever been a giver—a person ripe for exploitation by people who have no ambition or drive of their own. And seeing her husband almost at her feet to beg for some more support gets her close to falling for his manipulation again. It’s the support from her cousins and Bianca, the people who see Paul for the useless dud he really is, that helps Kristin stand her ground and send him off without a penny. She may be done with helping out leeches, but she hasn’t quite stopped letting a man’s love define her. The romance that has been brewing for the course of a few months with the handsome pasta entrepreneur Lorenzo keeps her from fully assuming her role as the mafia matriarch. It’s her innate goodness and the guilt she feels for lying to him about the criminal secret that nudges her to drop the sacred foundation she’s built as a worthy Balbano descendant. You can only lead the horse to water. Bianca’s guidance has been a boon for the new life that Kristin has found herself in. The level-headed advisor is the only one that Kristin has ever trusted to show her the right way (all the applause for teasing and disappointing the riled-up chunk of the audience with all the “almost” intimacies that Bianca and Kristin share).

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Mafia Mamma is a feminist story through and through. It’s Bianca’s explorations and appreciation of the gray area of crime that really speaks to Kristin. Through Bianca’s eyes, she’s seen all the good that she can do for her subjects if she chooses to hold on to her position of power. It’s also the faith that Kristin has in Bianca’s counsel, which is cross-checked by her feminine sensibility, that makes her choose Bianca as her successor. When the truth about the deceitful Lorenzo’s manipulation crashes into her with the velocity of a train, Kristin is finally disillusioned with her need for love. Her love for Paul imprisoned her in a life of thankless labor, and her love for Lorenzo, who has been an undercover cop all this time, has brought her dangerously close to incarceration. It’s evidently a tad too gimmicky that Kristin’s lawyer friend shows up at the right time, and the judge is floored by Kristin’s ardent self-discovery and decides to let her go. But I’m not above granting Mafia Mamma this wholesome, albeit corny, moment of shared feminine compassion. Just the fact that Kristin’s emotional evolution has rendered her a woman strong enough to reject the love that Lorenzo is still offering after royally screwing her over stands as glowing proof of how far Kristin has come on her personal journey. But the troubles aren’t over until all threats are vanquished. And luckily for Kristin, the last challenge (for a while at least, I guess) comes in the form of a poorly-concocted take-over plan by her cousin Fabrizio.

If anything, the terribly under-thought undertaking has only given Kristin a chance to prove to herself and everyone else that she’s truly a champion mafia boss. Of course, it’s Paul’s nasty move of flying in Nicky to soften Kristin that gets them both kidnapped by Fabrizio. With the help of Bianca and her strikingly cool metal prosthetic leg, it takes Kristin a matter of minutes to bring Fabrizio to the brink of death (literally). Fabrizio has clearly underestimated how far Kristin can go to preserve the life that she’s fought tooth and nail for. The biggest mistake a man can make is to question a rogue woman’s extent of extremities. And Fabrizio pays for it dearly, with his blood reddening the juice that’s pouring out of the grape crusher. The ending sequence of Mafia Mamma is crucial to the state of mind that Kristin is now in and what it means for her future as Donna Balbano. Healing isn’t linear. When a person puts an end to one self-harming extremity, the pendulum often goes to the very antithesis, an equally (if not more) chaotic periphery. All Kristin needed was time until her way of life struck a healthy balance of self-love and benevolence. So, when she hands the bag of trail mix to her son, we know that she doesn’t need to relinquish her motherly instincts to stop herself from sacrificing too much. And when she resumes her role as an expert vintner and the altruistic matriarch of the Balbano crime family, she proves that her self-love doesn’t stand in the way of her love for others.

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/lopamudra-mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

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