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The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

2012 | 97 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas


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Theatrical release date

 07 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Blu-ray

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 6, 2012

“The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” represents a return to the basics for writer/director/star Edward Burns, who long ago shot to fame with his indie darling, “The Brothers McMullen.” Taking supporting work in awful movies (like the recent “Alex Cross”) to support his micro-budgeted filmmaking habit, Burns looks to resuscitate a little of the old Irish-Catholic magic with his latest endeavor, which reunites him with “McMullen” stars Michael McGlone and Connie Britton. Encouraging the dysfunction is a seasonal setting, providing Burns with a fertile battlefield of sibling discontent and parental resentment, creating a prickly but inviting familial atmosphere that offers enough variation in woe to ease the script out of its occasional dalliance with clumsy melodrama.

The holidays are approaching for the contentious Fitzgerald Family of Long Island, with absentee father Jim (Ed Lauter) hoping to reunite with his brood after a long absence to discuss his cancer diagnosis. Unable to forgive, mother Rosie (Anita Gillette) permits eldest son Gerry (Edward Burns) to feel out the family’s stance on the estranged parent’s return. To have this uncomfortable conversation with his siblings, Gerry travels all over the city to meet with Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald), who’s dealing with a pregnancy and a troubled marriage; Dottie (Marsha Dietlein), who left her husband for a younger man; Quinn (Michael McGlone), a businessman ready to propose to his twentysomething girlfriend; Sharon (Kerry Bishe), the youngest Fitzgerald, currently involved with a man twice her age; Erin (Heather Burns), a mother and wife who’s known about her father’s condition for a year; and Cyril (Tom Guiry), who’s fresh out of rehab. Facing a range of passionate reactions to news of this unwanted Christmas guest, Gerry clears his head with Nora (Connie Britton), a nurse taking care of a beloved next door neighbor, finding her clarity welcome during this difficult time of year.

The key to the success of “Fitzgerald Family Christmas” is the titular clan, and I believe Burns has manufactured a perfectly believable household dynamic, focusing the majority of the script on these individual lives and their lived-in interplay as the siblings gather to discuss a reunion with their father. While Burns accentuates the Irish atmosphere to create a credible sense of stubbornness and, ultimately, unity, the feature downplays any cartoon enhancements to find softer, mournful beats as these troubled ones deal with their mixed feelings for their father and the difficulties of their own lives.

Burns does a fine job divvying up the drama, allowing each supporting character time to work out issues and deal with conflict before returning to the group dynamic, which creates a lively atmosphere of strong opinions and bickering. That there’s any pace to “Fitzgerald Family Christmas” is a holiday miracle, finding the screenplay capturing an even tempo of disgruntled behavior, while reveals of disappointments shade the motivations with interesting restraint, allowing just enough pain to seep through without overwhelming the picture with artificial anguish. A particular example of graceful scripting comes with Gerry and Nora’s first date, where they briefly share a moment of confession and ache as they touch on loved ones lost on 9/11. Burns doesn’t always show finesse with scenes of tension, supplying cringe-worthy exchanges between Connie and her abusive Irish husband, while a partner switcheroo scenario with Sharon and Quinn doesn’t bring intended comedy, yet the majority of “Fitzgerald Family Christmas” is devoted to modest ache and acts of forgiveness that keep to the holiday theme, sold with Burns’s concentration on working-class neighborhood particulars, with attention paid to interiors devoted to family history.

Christmas songs twinkle mournfully on the soundtrack, maintaining seasonal unease as the characters are forced to make a choice about their father. The holiday spirit isn’t striking, but there’s enough to convince, with more interest placed on fresh emotional wounds than parties and presents. Although it’s a return to safe thematic ground for Burns, “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” brings the filmmaker back into view, doing an excellent job of isolating specific beats of pain in the midst of a household whirlwind of unresolved irritations. He’s skilled at this perspective, using minimal resources to seize a universal sense of family politics and personal discontent.

Starring: Edward Burns, Connie Britton, Michael McGlone
Director: Edward Burns

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