DVD Review - The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

The late Ed Lauter (left) and Edward Burns
in "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas"
I've said it before. I'll say it again. Edward Burns is a younger, taller, more handsome Woody Allen. Instead of being a nervous, Jewish, comedic, independent filmmaker, Burns is a ballsy, Irish-Catholic, comedic, independent filmmaker. Burns hasn't made it a secret that Allen is a favorite filmmaker after whom he actively patterns himself, but Burns does stand apart. He certainly has his own voice and tone that comes through clearly because Burns acts in all his films, so his own personal energy that he brings to every film is undeniable, but because he has a repertoire of regular actors that he utilizes over and over, he's able to maintain his tone and voice. This is Burns' eleventh feature as director, and at that point Allen was doing comedies and dramas that involved sci-fi and fantasy. Burns would never go that far as to be that satirical or absurd. Burns likes down-to-earth, New York-set, family and relationship dramas, tinged with his style and sense of humor.

Pretty much every actor in this movie are actors that Burns has employed before, so in similar ways, this film is a family reunion for Burns. Edward Burns plays Gerry, the owner and manager of a bar and restaurant he practically inherited from his father who left the family 20 years ago. Now, for his mom's 70th birthday, which falls a few days before Christmas, Gerry tries to gather his six brothers and sisters to his mom's house not only to celebrate but also to talk about something important. The problem is that none of them want to come. They all have their issues, which keep them occupied. The important something is that after 20 years in absentia, the patriarch of the family, their father, wants to return and share Christmas.

This is much to the chagrin to Gerry's mom Rosie, played by Anita Gillette (She's the One), who made a vow that after her husband Big Jim, played by the late Ed Lauter, abandoned the family, he would never step foot in her house ever again. Lauter is the veteran actor who died of cancer on October 16, 2013, at the age of 74. Ironically, his character Big Jim was also a man who has terminal cancer, which is why he wants back after 20 years. Being that Burns' film was Lauter's last film released prior to his death, it's not only prescient but also it stands as a beautiful tribute to the deceased actor.

Other than that, the movie is a naturalistic, straight-forward deconstruction of this family and the aftermath and consequences that the abandonment of its patriarch can have on the people left behind. From the substance abuse from Gerry's youngest brother, Cyril, played by Tom Guiry (The Sandlot and Mystic River) to the May-December romance of his sister Sharon, played by Kerry Bishé (Argo and Newlyweds) to the abusive relationship of Connie, played by Caitlin Fitzgerald (Newlyweds) to the sense of obligation and burden felt by Gerry and his sister Erin, played by Heather Burns (The Groomsmen), Burns smartly and succinctly explores the effects in each of the characters. Heather Burns, by the way, is of no relation to Edward Burns.

Yes, the movie is more serious but Burns does weave great humor, which runs like a gentle undercurrent. He's confident enough in his comedic sense that he knows he doesn't have to do the obvious setup and punchlines. He can simply draw from the innate humor that comes from a bickering, Irish-American family.

Burns does give himself a bit of a romance, a sweet affair with a live-in nurse named Nora, played by Connie Britton (The Brothers McMullen). Burns also gives himself a great monologue, which he delivers very well, and I bought and went with his sincerity. Yet, I found unintentional humor as the monologue was tantamount to the premise and sentiments of my favorite comedy series Arrested Development.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Burns builds his film to a wonderful moment of forgiveness that Gillette and Lauter perform brilliantly. To keep the sentimentality at bay, Burns does end on a joke, true to his ultimate form.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language, some sexual and drug references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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