Family Man

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EFL Movie Study Guides (for English learners)

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EFL Movie Study Guide for: The Family Man



Story: Jack is a rich, successful stock broker. One Christmas Eve, he gets a glimpse of what his life would have been like if he had made different choices. What did he give up by not marrying his college girlfriend and raising a family? This movie will give you a lot to think about, especially if you are a college student who thinks that a good salary is the only thing to look for in a job. (2000; Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni; Universal Pictures; romance, comedy; PG-13; 2 hr)

Setting: New York City and a nearby New Jersey suburb


People and proper nouns:

Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage): a single, successful businessman who runs a large NY financial firm

Kate Reynolds (Tea Leoni): in the opening scene: a young law student and Jack’s girlfriend (later we see that Kate is a single, successful lawyer, and during the "glimpse" she is Jack's wife and the mother of Annie and Josh)

Peter Lassiter: he owns Jack’s financial firm

Alan Mintz: works for Jack (and later, he has taken Jack’s leadership job)

“Big Ed”: Kate’s father; owns a tire retail store

Arnie: Jack’s best friend (during the middle of the movie)

Black Angel (a black man who has no name): this man has supernatural powers and acts sort of like an angel (or the Monkey King?)

Wall Street: a synonym for the financial industry of the USA; home of the Wall Street Stock Exchange

Ferrari, Caddy/Cadillac, minivan: types of cars (the first two are expensive; a minivan is a family car)

Synopsis: Jack Campbell, a successful and aggressive Wall Street stock broker, lives a happy, single life. On Christmas Eve, he meets an “angel” who asks, “What do you need, Jack?” Jack replies: “Nothing; I have everything I want.” Well, the next morning, the “angel” puts Jack in a “glimpse” of what his life would have been like if he had married his college girlfriend, 13 years earlier. In this “glimpse,” he and Kate live in New Jersey (about an hour away from New York City), and they have two children (Annie is about 5 years old; Josh is still in diapers). Instead of being president of P.K. Lassiter Investment Company, he now helps his father-in-law run a retail tire store (he quit his Wall Street job after “Big Ed” had a heart attack, thereby saving the family’s company). Jack’s Ferrari and expensive suits are gone; he now has a broken mini-van and “mall-bought” inferior clothing (he calls them “sub-par”). After he realizes that there is nothing he can do to get his “real” life back, he settles into this “glimpse” life, and finds the value of deep friendships, family relationships, and true love. Although he misses the comfort and power of his job in “The City”, he realizes that he never stopped loving Kate (and grows to love his “glimpse” children). He is no longer “confident and sure of everything,” but eventually he decides that “there’s no place I’d rather be” than with his family.

Nouns/verbs (vocabulary):

acid trip: an overdose of drugs that make you “see things” that are not real

cocky: acting overly proud

eggnog: a drink often associated with Christmas (like Moon Cakes=Mid Autumn Festival)

*to erase: to remove sth, so that no one can see it anymore

*fidelity: faithful to one’s obligations (responsibilities), especially “sexually faithful” to one’s spouse. (A “high fidelity” recording faithfully/accurately gives you the true way music originally sounded.)

to flush: to quickly clean or wash away, like the contents of a toilet

*glimpse: a short experience of or look at sth that helps you to begin to understand it

gonna (oral English): "going to" (you should never write the word "gonna" because it is not really a word)

*heart attack: a sudden, serious medical condition where someone’s heart stops (many people can survive these attacks if treated quickly)

*internship: the last step of professional training after you finish college; a company (like Barclay’s Bank in London) agrees to train you for a year, while paying you a bit less than you would earn later. The right internship can make a big difference in one’s career.

*lotto or lottery: a gambling game (often state-run) where you buy a ticket in hope of winning money (you get cash for a winning ticket at a place that sells tickets, and the store owner gets money, too)

*merger: (e.g., Med Tech & Global); when two companies combine to become one bigger company; some mergers are “hostile,” i.e. one of the companies does not want to become part of the other

*naïve (negative connotation): innocent but immature; overly optimistic because of a lack of experience

*nonprofit (law firm): a company created to help needy people (instead of trying to make lots of money for themselves)

*perk: something you get legally from your job in addition to wages/salary

a prick (offensive term): a stupid, unpleasant male who "isn't fun to be around"

*precocious: mature for one’s age (esp referring to a little child, often in a negative way)

*prejudiced=bigoted: having strong negative feelings toward everyone of a different race, religion, political viewpoint, etc., esp. when such prejudice keeps you from listening to anyone with these differences

*to redeem: to get something good because someone promised that thing under certain circumstances (e.g., the government promises to give money in exchange for a winning lotto ticket; you get 5 discount on new shoes if you “redeem” a coupon from the newspaper). The noun form is “redemption.”

*stock (or shares of stock): an investment that lets your “own” part of a company (“Do you own any stock?” “Yes, I buy shares worth $200 every month, as part of my retirement savings plan.”)

stock broker: someone who buys and sells stock for others, earning a percentage of the cost as his fee (EF Hutton is a famous financial firm)

stock trader: a person or company that makes money by buying and selling stock, and sometimes by convincing corporations to merge

*suburb: the area around the outside of a city (many suburbs are really small cities) where people live, often driving to work in a nearby city

wanna (oral English): "want to" (you should never write the word "wanna" because it is not really a word)

*wrinkled: a synonym for “elderly”, referring to the lines or folds that show age on an older person’s face


Phrases or sayings:

tunnel vision: the tendency to consider only one part of sth. instead of all parts

*you blew it: you missed the chance for something good

*talk turkey: to talk seriously about details, esp. in business

*in a nutshell: in summary

an old flame: a former girlfriend or boyfriend; a past love

a gift with ten zeros: $10,000,000,000

*to deal with (dealt with): to handle or solve sth like a problem or need

*to screw up: to make a mistake

news at 11:00: used as if one is giving a headline for the evening news program, as if to say “they should talk about this on the TV news”



(1) Talk about the things that people wish they could “do over” or “do differently.” (Make a list.)

(2) Use examples from the film to illustrate how Jack treats people (neighbors, people at his company, friends, customers, children, others).

(3) Work with your partner to think of differences between Jack’s life in the “glimpse” and before/after it.

(4) As you consider your first job after college, what factors will be most important to you? Explain.

(5) With a partner, come up with five ethical principles you could see in the movie: for example, “It is not good to make your child the last one to be picked up, otherwise it will hurt his feelings." (Annie tells Jack to pick her up at school earlier and not let her be the last one left.)

(6) With a partner, come up with five business or economics principles you could see in the movie: for example, “Offering consistent customers some discount may bring a good return to your business." (As a tire retailer, Jack offers an old customer a certain percent discount).

(7) The last scene in the movie shows Jack and Kate talking in the New York airport. We are left to imagine for ourselves what the final outcome will be. What do you think will happen next?


Sentences/dialogs from the movie: (some are from Blue sections are particularly important.

1.   Jack [after Kate says she has a “bad feeling” about Jack going to London for a year]: Look, we’re at the airport. Nobody ever thinks clearly at the airport. So we should just trust the decision we already made. You’ve been accepted into one of the best law schools in the country. I’ve got this internship at Barclay’s Bank. We have a great plan, honey.

      Kate: You wanna do something great, Jack? Let’s flush the plan! Let’s start our lives right now, today. I have no idea what this life is going to look like, but I know that it has the both of us in it, and I choose “us.” What we have together, that’s what makes us great.

      Jack: I love you. And one year in London is not going to change that. A hundred years couldn’t change that.

2.   Jack: Let me see the [lottery] ticket.

      Black Angel [talking to Jack, but he has been pointing a gun at the prejudiced store clerk who won’t redeem his ticket]: Was I talking to you?

      Jack: Maybe I'll buy it from you. You know, make a little business deal.

      Black Angel: “Stupid ass white boy in $2000 suit gets capped [murdered] trying to be a hero,” news at 11:00. That’s what you wanna see? DO YOU WANNA DIE?

      Jack: No. Look, I’m talking about a business deal. I buy the ticket from you for $200. I take it to a store where the guy behind the counter doesn’t have a death wish [doesn’t want to die]. I just  made myself a quick $38. It’s just a business deal.

      Black Angel: All right. [talking to the clerk] You blew it, B. This ticket was real. Come on, Jack, let’s get out of here. [Note: In America, the government gives money to the store if they redeem winning lottery tickets.]

3.   Kate [waking up, the first morning of Jack’s “glimpse”]: Jack. Strong coffee. [i.e., “go make strong coffee”]

4.   [Jack is very frustrated after no one in NY recognizes him, and he learns that Mr. Mintz is now the president of “his” company]

      Black Angel: You brought this on yourself. “I’ve got everything I need.” Does that sound familiar?

      Jack: You mean, ‘cause you thought I was cocky, I'm now on a permanent acid trip?

      Black Angel: The way you intervened in that store last night… You did a good thing there, Jack.

      Jack: Please just tell me what’s happening to me in plain English, without the mumbo-jumbo.

      Black Angel: This is a glimpse, Jack.

      Jack: A glimpse of what?

      Black Angel: You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself…

      Jack: I just want my life back. Now, what’s it gonna take? You wanna talk turkey? Let’s talk turkey. How much money?

      Black Angel: It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to figure this out for yourself.

      Jack: I don’t have time for this right now. I'm in the middle of a deal!

      Black Angel: Well, you’re working on a new deal now, baby.

Dialogs (continued from the other column)


5.   Arnie [quoting something Jack told him in the past]: Do you remember what you said? “Don't screw up the best thing in your life just because you're a little unsure about who you are.”

6.   [Still confused about the “glimpse” he has found himself in, Jack returns to Kate’s house]

      Kate [angry]: What kind of a man leaves his family Christmas morning, without a word about where he is going?

      Jack: Could you please stop yelling at me? [Kate can’t understand his explanation, and then Jack starts ringing a small bell that Black Angel gave him, hoping that the angel will rescue him. Annie hears it, and takes it to put on her bike.]

      Jack: That's mine. I need that back! She took my bell.

      Kate: You missed the whole thing: the pancakes and the presents. You spent six hours putting her bike together for Annie, and then you didn’t even get to see the look on her face when she opened it. You missed Christmas, Jack. But we don’t have time for this. Go get dressed for the party.

      Jack: I’m not going to a party.

      Kate: Fine. I’ll tell my mother she doesn’t have to watch the kids because you’ll be here.

      Jack: I’ll be ready to go in ten minutes.

7.   [After a Christmas party, Jack is walking the dog in the snow.]

      Jack (to the dog): If you could take a dump (大便) sometime in this century, then we could go home where it's warm. If I can remember how to get home. You remember, don’t you girl? 

8.   Annie [who is trying to figure out why Jack is acting so strange]: You’re not really my dad, are you?

      Jack: No, I’m not. I work on Wall Street, you know, with the big buildings. I live in an apartment with a doorman. And I can buy almost anything I want. This isn’t my life. It’s just a glimpse.

      Annie [she now thinks that Jack was created by aliens, to take her father’s place for a while]: They did a pretty good job.

      Jack: Who did?

      Annie: The aliens, in the mothership. You look just like him.

      Jack: Thanks. Slightly better-looking, though, right? [Annie starts to cry.] Oh, you’re not going to start crying, are you? I don’t think I could really deal with that right now.

      Annie: Do you like kids?

      Jack: On a case-by-case basis.

      Annie: Do you know how to make chocolate milk?

      Jack: I think I could figure it out.

      Annie: Promise you won't kidnap me and my brother and plant stuff in our brains?

      Jack: Sure.

      Annie: Welcome to earth.

9.   Jack: You were always a very pretty girl in college. There’s no question about that. But this--You’ve really grown into a beautiful woman.

      Kate: How can you do that?

      Jack: What?

      Kate: Look at me like you haven't seen me every day for the last 13 years.

10. Jack [angry, after wasting a lot of time at the shopping mall]]: I'm sorry I was such a saint before, and I'm such a prick now!

11.  [After getting mad at the mall, Jack and Kate are talking about their past 13 years of marriage; apparently, getting pregnant with Annie was not exactly “planned”.]

      Jack: Yeah, that was a very unexpected moment. But what are you gonna do?

      Kate: I think it turned out all right, don’t you?

      Jack: Yeah. I really like Annie.

      Kate (sarcastically): Well, good, Jack. Maybe we'll keep her.

12. Arnie [trying to talk Jack out of having a sexual affair with a friend]: A little flirtation is harmless but you're dealing with fire here. The “Fidelity Bank and Trust" is a tough creditor. You make a deposit somewhere else, they close your account - FOREVER. [Note: Some banks have the word “Fidelity” and “Trust” in their title, and “fidelity” and “trust” are keys to a good marriage, so this is a remarkable play on words.]

13.  [They are celebrating their anniversary at an expensive restaurant in New York.]

      Jack: I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. I remember I used to walk to work, and I had a warm bialy in my hand, and a hot cup of coffee from Dean & Deluca, the crisp feeling of The Wall Street Journal, the smell of leather from my briefcase. I used to be so sure about everything; confident. I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. And then one morning I woke up and suddenly it was all different.

      Kate: Worse, do you mean?

      Jack: No. Well, maybe a few things, but mostly just different. And that’s okay. But I never used to be like this, Kate. I was the guy who had it all figured out. I had no doubts. I had no regrets.

      Kate: And now?

      Jack: Now I don’t. I don’t have it all figured out.

      Kate: Me neither.

      Jack: But you always seem so certain.

      Kate: Do you think there aren’t mornings when I wake up and wonder, “What the hell am I doing in New Jersey?” My office is a dump. I answer my own phone, and you’ve seen my [disgraceful] paycheck. Can you imagine a life where everything was just easy? You know, where you ask for things, and people just bring them to you?

      Jack: It’s wonderful!

      Kate: I think about it too. I wonder about what kind of life I would have had if I hadn’t married you. Then I realize I’ve just erased all the things in my life that I’m sure about. You and the kids.

      Jack: Good things.

      Kate: Yeah. [after a pause] What are you sure about?

      Jack: I’m sure that right now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than here with you.

14. Kate: When you got on that plane, I was sure it was over. I left the airport afraid I'd never see you again. And then you showed up the very next day. That was a good surprise. You know, I think about the decision you made... Maybe I was being naïve, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house. That we'd spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us, all grey and wrinkled, and me working in the garden and you re-painting the deck. But things change. If you need this [job], Jack--if you really need this--I will take these kids from a life they love and I'll take myself from the only home we've ever shared together and I'll move wherever you need to go. I'll do that because I love you. I love you, and that's more important to me than our address. I choose “us”.

15.  Jack [when he sees Black Angel again after a few months in the “glimpse”]: You’re not sending me back…. You can't keep coming in and out of people's lives, messing things up. It's not right.

      Black Angel: A glimpse, by definition, is an impermanent thing.

      Jack: I’ve got kids. I’m going home.

16. Jack [in “real life”, trying to solve a panic on Christmas, says he will fly to Colorado to be with a client; Jack is somewhat depressed after waking up from the “glimpse”]: Then I'm going to spend four hours skiing alone. Completely and utterly alone. I'm going to do that because that is my life; that's what's real... and there's nothing I can do to change that.

17.  Jack: We have a house in Jersey. We have two kids, Annie and Josh. Annie's not much of a violin player, but she tries real hard. She's a little precocious, but that's only because she says what's on her mind. And when she! And Josh, he has your eyes. He doesn't say much, but we know he's smart. He's always got his eyes open, he's always watching us. Sometimes you can look at him and you just know he's learning something new. It's like witnessing a miracle. The house is a mess, but it's ours--after 122 more payments, it's going to be ours. And you, you're a nonprofit lawyer. That's right, you're completely nonprofit, but that doesn't seem to bother you. And we're in love. After 13 years of marriage we're still unbelievably in love. You won't even let me touch you until I've said it. I sing to you. Not all the time, but definitely on special occasions. We've dealt with our share of surprises and made a lot of sacrifices but we've stayed together. You see, you're a better person than I am. And it made me a better person to be around you. I don't know, maybe it was all just a dream. Maybe I went to bed one lonely night in December and I imagined it all. But I swear, nothing has ever felt more real. And if you get on that plane right now, it'll disappear forever. I know we could both go on with our lives and we'd both be fine, but I've seen what we could be like together. And I choose “us”.


Comparisons between Jack’s “real” and “glimpse” lives:

The film starts and ends showing us Jack (and Kate) in “real life”, but the middle of the film shows us a glimpse of what their lives would have been like if they had gotten married 13 years before.

1. In real life, Jack is single and tells the “angel” he doesn’t need anything to make his life complete. In Jack’s glimpse, he wakes up and finds that he is married and has two children and a dog!

2. In real life, Jack is the president of a large financial corporation and works on Wall Street in New York City. In Jack’s glimpse, Jack helps his father-in-law run a retail tire store.

3. In real life, Jack lives in a large, expensive apartment and drives a nice sports car. In Jack’s glimpse, he lives in a New Jersey suburb (about an hour from New York) and drives a mini-van.

4. Though the successful Jack felt like his life was complete, after being in the glimpse for a while, Jack begins to think that he would be much happier if he had a family.

5. In Jack’s glimpse, Kate is a nonprofit lawyer (like she planned to be while in college; poorly paid, giving legal help to people who cannot afford to pay much). In real life, Kate is a successful, well-paid lawyer, soon to move to Paris with a large law firm.


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