Victoria Gotti’s Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter is an exercise in alternative facts so galling it could be written by Donald Trump. Adapted from Gotti’s 2014 memoir This Family of Mine: What It Was Like Growing Up Gotti, Gotti narrated, co-wrote, and co-produced this loose biopic that toes the line between so-bad-it’s-good and so-bad-it’s-infuriating.
Gotti is played by Chelsea Frei, who provides a wooden, shallow performance. Frei’s Gotti insists that she’s kind and smart but there’s little supporting evidence. As a matter of plot holes, the cinematic Gotti is suddenly, inexplicably shrewd. Her father, notorious mob boss John Gotti, is portrayed by Maurice Bernard, who gives a significantly better yet stilted performance.
Of course, Frei and Bernard have little to work with but tired Italian-American stereotypes (about, oddly, New Jersey–the Gotti family lived in Howard Beach, Queens) from Gotti’s one-woman spin machine. Lifetime may not be in the business of journalism, but its occasional grabs for accolades (Cocaine Godmother, the Beaches and Steel Magnolias remakes) should have prevented the film from careening into a retcon nightmare.
It may have been Lifetime’s best interest to relinquish Gotti of her power: the film portrays her life as a suburban fairytale with occasional phases of stress (because her father’s been unfairly imprisoned!) The film heavily focuses on her forbidden love with Carmine (even if he holds her at gunpoint when she’s in the bath!), who her father didn’t approve of (but did bring into the Gambino crime family, so…). Among the great tragedies of Gotti’s life is the death of her brother Frank, but the gravitas is lost when Gotti glosses over the forced disappearance of John Favara, the man who hit and killed Frank.
Favara, by the way, is portrayed as a young man who likes the party, an unrepentant scumbag who delighted in mowing down a child on a bicycle. In an oddly satisfying scene, Gotti’s mother charges Favara during the neighbor’s outdoor party. Apparently, Mrs. Gotti charged at the former-family friend when he arrived at the Gotti doorstep to apologize. Favara was 51 and the father of a friend of Frank’s; the FBI believes Favara’s body is buried in the outer boroughs. Favara was planning to move his family when he was forced into a van in broad daylight and driven away, never to be seen alive (or dead, probably, since there are different accounts to the disposal of his body) again. That’s only one murder Gotti may be behind. His attempt at orchestrating a hit is among the many charges that sent him to jail for a final time in 1992.
The film also portrays Gotti as a saint. The unjust canonization of a man hasn’t been this grand since The Sound of Music. (The man was denied a Requiem Mass by the Catholic Church!) This is not a man in the mob to support his five children and just, like, sold some cigarettes that fell off a truck. Why, he loved his family (and toxic masculinity) so much, he sent his son to military school, to get him to shape up! (John Jr. failed to graduate and eventually took over the Gambino family. Despite the film’s insinuation that Victoria was John Gotti’s primary visitor, it was John Jr., who received orders to disseminate outside of prison.) It’s reminiscent of Bohemian Rhapsody; both films further personal agendas that are not based in facts.
Despite seven years in development, this film seems to have lacked a decent budget: the portrayal of a popular disco looks like a poorly attended basement party. The wigs are ill-fitting and appeared hastily applied. One scene was staged in such a way that Carmine looked like he was four feet tall.
Finally having plodded into Gotti’s marriage and children, the story ends with the death of John Gotti and arrest of Carmine. It never addresses John Jr.’s trials, Victoria’s foreclosure and the A&E hit Growing Up Gotti. If Victoria Gotti wants to sell the public on the idea that her father was a loving family man who raised a hard-working, intelligent woman, then sell us on the way she’s spun her last name and career as a columnist into a media mogul!
You can watch Lifetime’s latest trash fire here.