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SYFY WIRE Christmas

The Family Man Writers Explain Why Underrated Nic Cage Fantasy Needed To Be Set Around the Holidays

Looking back at the Nic Cage fantasy classic and why it's the perfect holiday watch.

By Josh Weiss
The Family Man (2000)

David Diamond and David Weissman never intended to write a holiday classic. The screenwriting duo known for EvolutionOld Dogs, and When in Rome were simply curious about the decisions people make on a daily basis. "We live our lives, we make choices, the choices have consequences, and we can never know for sure what would have happened if we had chosen differently," Diamond explains over a Zoom conversation with Weissman and SYFY WIRE. "That's always been true, and it's always going to be true."

That existential pondering — a choice in and of itself — led them down a path to The Family Man (now streaming on Peacock), a 2000 Christmas fantasy centered around successful New York City businessman, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage), who wakes up one morning to find himself in the suburban Jersey life he might have had if he'd settled down with his college girlfriend, Kate (Téa Leoni).

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Immediately horrified at losing his extravagant bachelor lifestyle overnight, Jack slowly comes to realize that genuine contentment doesn't come from penthouse apartments, steamy one-night stands, or billion-dollar mergers. As Weissman puts it, he goes "from having no connection on Christmas Eve, to having the deepest of connections."

"Christmas is a time of year when people reflect on their lives," Diamond explains of the festive backdrop. "It's the end of the year, New Year's is coming, it's a family time. We didn't set out to write a Christmas movie, but it felt like the right time of year to set a movie that had these themes ... If it was just some random week in May, it might not have that impact."

The Family Man screenwriters discuss origins of Nic Cage holiday classic

Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand), The Family Man opened in theaters three days before Christmas of 2000. It grossed a little over $124 million worldwide against a production budget of $60 million and drew critical comparisons to It's a Wonderful Life, although the screenwriters assert they weren't aiming for a remake of the Frank Capra classic.

The goal, Diamond states, was to make "something that had a tradition to it, but felt like it was very much of the moment and dealing with a character who is actually going through things in real time in the world that we're in today." And besides, the supernatural-lesson-around-the-holidays concept is nothing new. In fact, it predates It's a Wonderful Life by a century in Dickens' A Christmas Carol

"We’ve always loved movies with magic," Weissman says, citing Groundhog Day as a major creative influence. "[Diamond and I have] been best friends since we were 13-years-old and we probably spent the first 25 years of our partnership only talking about the past. That’s all we did. When you have a shared history like that, it was one of the most powerful things. So the idea that you could see what an alternative strand of your life looked like was, I think, always a really powerful idea."

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George Clooney, Kevin Kline, and John Travolta were all briefly considered for the part of Jack, but it was Cage whom the writers wanted from the start. "We wrote it with his voice in our heads," Diamond says. The pair ended up sitting down with the actor at his lavish Bel-Air mansion, which had once belonged to Dean Martin.

"It was hard for me not to be hyper-aware that I was sitting in whatever room we were sitting in of the 100 rooms in Nic Cage’s mansion with a butler bringing us snacks and drinks," Diamond remembers. "But ultimately, the other guys — Nic, Brett, and [producer] Mark Abraham — were so dialed in to what we wanted this movie to be about; what we wanted the tone of the movie to be; and what we wanted the issues and the conflicts of the character to be, that it pulled us in. It was creatively exciting and gratifying."

The Family Man (2000)

The Family Man writers are turning Nic Cage Christmas fantasy into a stage musical

Severely under-appreciated in its time, The Family Man remains a warm-hearted fable wrapped around an earnest message of human connection and reassessing one's priorities. It even served as an omen of things to come with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In the film, Jack goes from Goliath to David, swapping the cutthroat world of mergers and acquisitions for a humble managerial position at his father-in-law's auto parts store. "We may have been a little bit ahead of the curve," Weissman says of this economic prescience. "So much so, that I think that when the movie first came out, some people may have thought it was preachy."

While most screenwriters prefer to leave their old scripts in the past, the creative dyad have decided to make an exception for an upcoming stage musical adaptation of the film entitled "Glimpse." The production takes its name from the magical peek into Jack's alternate life — bestowed unto him by a mysterious stranger named Cash (played onscreen by Don Cheadle).

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"The show has its own structure, which is a little bit different from the movie, but we did use the screenplay as the basis for the book," Diamond reveals. "And in fact, there's a lot of dialogue from the movie in the lyrics to the songs."

The writer even goes so far as to hail the musical as being "more fun than the movie" because of the toe-tapping element. "It’s wall-to-wall songs. Some of them are very sweet and emotional [and] some of them are funny. But start to finish, it’s just lots of music and dancing and singing. So even though it's the same story and there's something sort of melancholy about the story itself, the stage musical is just a real crowd-pleaser."

The Family Man premiere GETTY

Rocking a book co-written by Diamond, Weissman, and lead producer, Lynn Shore (he also penned the music and lyrics with Mark Vogel), Glimpse was workshopped outside of Los Angeles and could open in New York as early as the 2023 holiday season.

"The 20-odd years in the interim allowed us to clarify a lot of the themes in a way that couldn't have been done in the movie," Weissman admits. "In particular, this Wall Street versus Main Street thing, which is now really resonant. But at the time, it was an era of the country when you were still kind of in the Gordon Gekko world ... I think in writing the book, we were able to clarify a couple of those themes and actually deepen them a little bit. In particular, what this character learns [from] living the New Jersey life."

"When we wrote the original script for The Family Man, neither of us was married," Diamond concludes. "Now we're both married and we both have children. So we've lived this life [and] that makes a difference."

According to a statement from Shore, the last year was spent "doing a few rewrites, scene change updates, and a few updates and changes to our songs." The next step is to host performances of Glimpse at regional theaters in preparation for a wide Broadway debut sometime in 2025. Stage veteran Josh Grisetti is attached as director.

The Family Man is now streaming on Peacock.

Originally published Nov 24, 2022.