The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Reviews
The Fitzgerald's are a big Irish-American family that have no shortage of problems. There are seven siblings who all look out for one another but when their estranged father wants to return home for Christmas after walking out 20 years ago, the siblings (and their mother) all have to work through their feelings and resentment towards him.
Those going into this expecting a happy family Yuletide event will certainly not get what they're expecting. As far as Christmas films go this one isn't filled with much cheer. In fact, the only reason it seems to be set around Christmas time is solely to stage an event where all the characters are forced to come together. It's a dysfunctional family drama that, once again, showcases Burns' astute eye and ear for natural characters and dialogue. With a plethora of different personalities onscreen, Burns makes it look effortless as he affords everyone the time and space to grow and develop their roles and crafts a impressive and sensitively handled ensemble piece.
In his impressively handling of the narrative strands and personal problems of his characters, Burns never forces anything. He lets the flawed individuals speak for themselves and he's aided by a solid cast that bring just the right amount of humour and heartbreak to proceedings without ever resorting to sentimentality.
Family dynamics has been the forte of Edward Burns' writing over the years and it would seem that he still has plenty to say on the matter. This may not be as solid as his debut but it's a perceptive piece nonetheless and Burns' continual independent filmmaking is deserving of a bigger audience.
Like I say, it's not the holiday cheer you might expect but also not a depressant either. It finds itself neatly under the mistletoe with a welcome embrace and a reminder that forgiveness can make a huge difference.
The characters in this film aren't new and border on cliche, but Edward Burns can find a sliver of individuality in each type. Burns's films are not as good as Woody Allen's and don't deal with the same heavy, Bergman-influenced issues as Allen's, but they are vaguely reminiscent.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is a light but unsentimental character study. The people are flawed but fun, light but not without significance, and separate but related personalities. They are, in short, just like the groups of people you know.
Overall, Burns, with his $6000 movies, proves that good story-tellers don't need special effects; they just need special people.
I have yet to see an Edward Burns film that I didn't enjoy and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is no different. What I always enjoy about his films is the simplicity he brings to them. There's no action to speak of, there's no schmaltzy bullshit; it's all just real conversations between real people. In many ways, Burns is like a Woody Allen, making conversational movies set in New York. The only real difference is that most of Burns' movies are dramas and most of Allen's are comedies.
This film follows the huge Fitzgerald family around Christmas time. Jerry is the leader of this family, the oldest of seven or eight siblings who ended up being like a father to the younger ones when their father left them high and dry as kids. Now they're all grown up and there's a lot of resentment towards their father. Most of it comes from the youngest three, who he was never a father too, and the mother who vowed to never let him set foot in her house again. He wants to now though. It could be his last Christmas as the doctors only are giving him four or five months to live because of his pancreatic cancer.
There's a lot of drama in this film. Unexpected pregnancies, an absent father, relationships going south, spousal abuse, and alcohol and drug problems come into the mix at different points in the film. What astounded me throughout though is how these plot points were used. With so much drama surrounding one family, you would think the movie would give in and become overly dramatic, but Burns' script doesn't allow this to happen. All of it occurs as it would in any family. It's pretty mind-blowing that Burns was able to pull this thing off.
All the actors, most of whom I've never heard of besides Burns and Connie Britton are all very good and believable. You'd think the movie would lose direction with so many different characters and situations, but it never does. It's also very different from the usual Christmas movie and doesn't play anything like what it's title suggests. It stays away from the sentimental moments and always feels very real. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is definitely a film that is worth a look.
It was threading on an edge to become a Hallmark entertainment piece, but Burns and a bracingly fine cast play it for real, and that feel of reality is never allowing the film to slip to the cheap and cheese category. He wisely brings in Connie Britton, as his new romance and their scenes together have an irresistible romantic vibrancy.
Even with all the problems of the family, there is a perfect amount of grit and comic grace notes, but sometimes I felt overwhelmed with so many characters introduced at once ... brother Quinn (Michael McGlone) wants to propose to younger girlfriend (Daniella Pineda); sister Sharon (Kerry Bishe) hooks up with a father-figure (Noah Emmerich); sister Dottie (Marsha Dietlein Bennett) dumps her husband for a hottie gardener, and the next sister Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is pregnant by an abusive boyfriend while the youngest brother Cyril (Tom Guiry) is just out of rehab; sister Erin (Heather Burns), has married up and looks down on her family, except for daddy... with all these it felt like an Russian classic not a modern Irish-American piece. It was a good experience, though.
The film needed a rewrite. It was too predictable. Also there were too many characters/family members and subplots in the film, that I forgot about a couple of them midway through the film. The pacing was also off.
On the positive, all the actors are well cast. I know Burns was trying to cast an actor from his past films in this film. Connie Britton and Mike McGlone were awesome in the film.
If you like family dramas, enhanced with ethnic specificity, then you might just really enjoy the picture. Think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" meets "In America," and be grateful that Burns has come a long way, as both a director and actor, since "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's the One." He's appealing, most of the other actors are appealing, and if you can ignore the missteps, you'll emerge after 110 minutes feeling pretty good.
A final note: this is a film that you can either choose to see in theaters, or watch on Video-on-Demand (VOD). As such, it is a potential harbinger of distribution models to come (though not the first film to try this out). Choose your platform, and see which you prefer.