If the opportunity presents itself, I do whatever I can to increase awareness concerning the charm of Edward Burns. Or, more specifically, the charm of his small, micro budget works of art. I love the films of Edward Burns, I wish more people watched them, and if people become taken with the films in the process, then rock ‘n’ roll.
Burns makes working class films for working class folks. His latest, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is a perfect case in point. Funded solely through Burns himself, and whatever dough he could scrape together from family and friends, Burns shot the film in secret, marketed it in post through Twitter and Facebook, then released it on iTunes before it hit select theaters last Friday. That’s independent cinema at its most independent. And goddamn if I don’t love it.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is essentially a movie about coming home. It chronicles the often hilarious, and suddenly dead serious, antics of seven children and their steadfast mother, debating whether their deadbeat father, who abandoned them all 20 years ago, should be invited home for Christmas.
I’m going to do something a little out of the ordinary (for me, anyway), and straight up roll call the cast. They are undervalued and ill appreciated, so I think they deserve it:
Gerry (Burns himself), the eldest brother and surrogate father to his siblings. Also the only one who has remained in contact with his father.
Quinn (Michael McGlone, so good in Burns’ McMullen and She’s the One), a successful businessman dating a much younger woman. He’s also on pop’s side.
Sharon (Kerry Bishé, perfect in Burns’ Newlyweds, also currently a hostage in Argo), a spitfire sister dating a much older man.
Dottie (Marsha Dietlein Bennett, wondefully spiteful in Newlyweds), the sister who dumped her husband for the young gardener.
Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald, who’s vulnerability arguably makes her the standout in whatever she’s in, including this film and Newlyweds) playing a pregnant sister trapped in an abusive relationship.
Erin (Heather Burns, a great character actress arguably best known as the pageant winner in Miss Congeniality), as a sister whose put-together façade is exactly that.
Cyril (Tom Guiry, Smalls from… what for it… The Sandlot!) as the baby brother fresh out of rehab.
Rosie (Anita Gillette, perfect here), the mother who wants nothing to do with her estranged husband.
Jim (Ed Lauter, always remarkable), the dad trying to make it back into the fold.
So, an eclectic bunch to say the least, all with New York-sized personalities to boot. I felt it necessary to call out the characters because that’s Burns’ game: characters. His best films have no plot whatsoever, but rather focus on the actions of people, and the justifications behind those actions. Why do some of the Fitzgerald clan hate their father, while others are warmly willing to let him back in?
And here’s the risk of the film: how does one give equal time to each character involved, so that, by the end, we completely understand where they’re all coming from? Easy: excellent writing, sturdy acting, and smooth editing, all things Burns exercises with the command of an utter pro here. The family dynamics are the backdrop, but they don’t fully sustain the film. For example, much time is spent on Gerry’s new sort-of love interest (played by the always flawless Connie Britton, whose big break was in The Brothers McMullen), while the scenes between sister Connie and her abusive boyfriend prove to be some of the most realistically tense moments Burns has ever put on film.
All told, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is close to perfect. It’s written how people talk, acted how people act, and executed simply and succinctly. I could say the same for most of the films in Burns’ oeuvre, and maybe due to the very warm critical reception that is currently being bestowed on The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, more people will finally dive into the simple world of Edward Burns. I don’t see how you could regret it. A-
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and other OnDemand outlets.