Title: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
Director: Edwards Burns (‘The Brothers McMullen,’ ‘Shes’ the One’)
Starring: Edward Burns, Connie Britton (TV’s ‘American Horror Story,’ ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘Nashville’), Ed Lauter (‘The Artist’), Anita Gillette (‘She’s the One,’ ‘Moonstruck’) Tom Guiry (‘Mystic River,’ ‘Black Hawk Down’) and Kerry Bishé (‘Argo,’ ‘Red State’)
Many large, tight-knit families often experience vast differences in opinions, even though they have gone through the same events growing up together in the same house. They’re forced to overcome their differing viewpoints when they reunite as adults for the holidays. Through spending more time together, they come to realize they do appreciate the bonds they have formed, even though they don’t always agree. This realization is an important motivating factor for the characters in scribe-helmer-actor Edward Burns’ latest writing and directorial effort, the drama ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,’ which is set to be released in theaters today in a limited release. The movie is a homage to the filmmaker’s first two films, ‘The Brothers McMullen’ and ‘She’s the One,’ and marks his return to his working-class, Irish-American Catholic roots after a 16-year absence.
‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas’ follows the seven New York working-class, Irish-American adult Fitzgerald siblings, led by Gerry (played by Burns), as they’re dealing with the desire of their estranged father, Jim (portrayed by Ed Lauter), to return home for Christmas for the first time since walking out on them 20 years ago. Family rifts emerge, and like with any family, the holiday brings about mixed emotions and dynamics, with Gerry leading the cause for their father to reunite with the family.
When his younger siblings, including his recovering alcoholic brother Cyril (played by Tom Guiry) and sister Sharon (portrayed by Kerry Bishé), and their mother, Rosie (played by Anita Gillette), object to Jim returning home, after remembering the pain he caused them, alliances form. But when Jim reveals a secret about himself, the possibility for a new hope and forgiveness emerges. With Gerry feeling conflicted over the growing rift in his family, he forms a connection with Nora (portrayed by Connie Britton), a nurse for one of his mother’s friends, who helps give him clarity on how to cope with his family’s arguments.
While the drama includes many diverse siblings who are all driven by extremely differing emotions, Burns naturally devoted time to show that while they have all grown up in the same environment, they all have different memories and opinions on life. As a writer, he realistically created scenarios that everyone from an extended family could truly relate to. For example, Burns effortlessly wrote and presented Gerry as instinctively taking on the patriarch role of the family right after Jim left, and still being devoted to his mother and siblings, 20 years later. He feels that protecting and honoring his mother is still one of the most important aspects of live, and sacrifices his own personal life to continue living with her.
While Gerry believes that trying to keep the Fitzgerald family together is one of the most important aspects in life, some of his siblings hold resentment over his continued presence in their life. Guiry and Bishé believably play Cyril and Sharon as being annoyed that they never knew their father growing up, as he left when they were extremely young. The two characters are upset they never formed a close bond with JIm, like he did with some of the older siblings. Like Gillette’s jilted portrayal of Rosie, who still is hurt by her husband’s abandonment, Guiry and Bishé embody the reasoning why people are reluctant to forgive those who have caused them emotional pain.
But Burns made the right decision to base his return to the Irish-American, Catholic, New York working class around Christmas-time. ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas’ shows that when even one family member believes in unifying the household, everyone eventually puts aside their differences and embrace each other. Like with his first two successful family films, and all Christmas movies in general, the drama truly resonates with audiences who want to start appreciating their families again, in spite of their past differences and fights.
The natural bonding between Burns and his co-stars comes from the fact that he hired cast many actors he previously directed, including ‘Newlyweds’ actress Caitlin Fitzgerald and ‘The Brothers McMullen’ stars Britton and Michael McGlone, who also appeared in ‘She’s the One’ with Gillette. Like with the actors reuniting to work together again, the Fitzgerald family truly came together to debate and decide whether or not to accept their father back into their lives. Burns and Britton, who mark their fourth time working together on the drama, were especially at ease with each other on screen. They understood the other actor’s character’s need to find comfort in an objective person outside of their family.
While ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,’ like all of Burns’ movies, is an independent film with a limited budget, the story is a true reflection into some of the filmmaker’s own personal family experiences. Filming on location at several areas near where he grew up in Valley Stream, New York, including his train station, church and most importantly, the block where he lived, showed the authentic unity of a family comfortable in their lives, but needing to find a way to reconnect with each other again.
Cinematographer William Rexer also used clever lighting and camera set-ups to show the true emotions that motivate the characters in the drama. When Gerry and Nora go on their first date, for example, first at the Fitzgerald family bar and then him driving her home, Rexer used dark lighting to show that they both want to keep some parts of their pasts hidden until they truly feel comfortable with each other. There’s also another scene where Gerry is talking to his brother Quinn, played by McGlone, outside of the bar, about his growing relationship with Nora. Burns is surrounded by the pillars of the train tracks, representing that he feels guarded about discussing his connection with Nora.
With his return to the Irish-American, Catholic, working class themes he featured in his first two films, ‘The Brothers McMullen’ and ‘She’s the One,’ Burns truly created his most personal film yet. Reflecting on his own large, tight-knit family, and recasting actors he previously directed, the writer-helmer showed how people who grew up together in the same house can have such differing view-points on life. The genuine themes and sincere connections between the actors helped overcome the monetary limitations Burns faced to create a realistic, emotional family movie.
Written by: Karen Benardello