Friday, November 16, 2012

“The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the drama “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” , starring Edward Burns, who also wrote and directed.


When a father who abandoned his family years ago attempts reconciliation at Christmas, he is unanimously rebuffed – but will his new secret cause them to change their mind?


In a family of seven adult children, one of them is often saddled with the responsibility of caretaker for the entire brood – and such is the case with Gerry (Burns), who has two brothers and four sisters and is the owner of The Fitzgerald Tavern, a friendly (albeit not often busy) Irish pub in Queens, New York. Living with his long-divorced mother Rosie (Anita Gillette), he desperately tries to round up his siblings in order to celebrate her 70th birthday – however, with Rosie’s birthday inconveniently two days before Christmas, the majority of her children would much rather blow off the party and instead celebrate with her when they all gather at Rosie’s house for Christmas.

Running around town to try to herd his siblings together, Gerry stops off at the house of Mrs. McGowan (Joyce Van Patten), a long-time family friend, who is now rather sickly. Upon inviting Mrs. McGowan to Rosie’s birthday party, Gerry meets Nora (Connie Britton), there to fill-in for Mrs. McGowan’s regular nurse, who has taken a vacation during the holidays. Immediately attracted to each other, Gerry and Nora start dating and a blossoming romance seems imminent. But just as things appear as though they can’t get any more complicated, Jim (Ed Lauter) – Rosie’s ex-husband and the father of her seven children – resurfaces seeking an invitation to celebrate Christmas with the family.

While Gerry feels a bit more forgiving, his siblings do not share his generous spirit and instead side with their mother in declining Jim of his wish. Seeking to express remorse for his past transgressions, Jim meets with Gerry in order to plead his case. In the course of their reunion, Jim reveals his secret reason for wanting to rejoin the family he deserted decades ago in order to bring some degree of closure to everyone’s individual situation. But even if the clan learns of their absentee father’s hidden agenda, will this new information thaw their hearts enough to let them reconsider and permit his return to the family?


Fans of some of Edward Burns’ more successful movies – especially something like “The Brothers McMullen” – will likely enjoy “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas”. Among the highlights of this small independent film are the verisimilitude of the familial relationships – for better or for worse – and the fact that the characters are drawn particularly well. Each individual – particularly the Fitzgerald offspring and especially the women – are unique, realistic characters with their own personality, issues, quirks and perspectives. Considering how male writers have traditionally been hamstrung by their inability to delineate female characters, this is quite an accomplishment for the exceedingly talented Burns.

The movie, however, is not without its drawbacks. First and foremost for me is the fact that it has too many characters to be able to follow each individual subplot with much clarity. Presumably, that is the sacrifice that Burns made when choosing to tell the story of a large, closely-knit, feuding, extremely dysfunctional Irish Catholic family. For another thing, the film has the look and feel of a soap opera and ultimately drags on a bit at points, limping to the finish line. I found myself waiting for an occasional joke to be thrown in just to lighten the mood ever so briefly, but unfortunately, this was never to be the case.

Following the screening, our instructor briefly interviewed Edward Burns, writer/director and star of “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas”. Burns said that he originally got the idea for the movie when shooting the film “Alex Cross”; the star of that motion picture – Tyler Perry – started discussing future projects with Burns and he wound up suggesting that Burns return to the earlier themes from some of his past successes because Burns had found a niche that no one else could emulate with as much aplomb. Burns said that this conversation immediately inspired him to start writing the screenplay; instead of taking his usual three to six months to churn out the first draft of a script, Burns was able to complete this one in only a matter of weeks by drawing on his childhood – he grew up in Queens with other Irish Catholic kids who also came from big families and these were some of the people on whom a few characters in “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” were based.



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