The Fitzgerald Family Christmas: Review

As overstuffed as a holiday feast, Edward Burns' tale of a dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family benefits greatly from his affable screen presence.

Edward Burns returns to his working class, Irish Catholic roots in this dysfunctional family comedy/drama.

Returning to the Irish Catholic roots he explored in his 1995 debut breakout film The Brothers McMullen, prolific actor/filmmaker Edward Burns delivers an overstuffed holiday feast in The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. This tale of a dysfunctional family whose members experience enough personal crises to fuel a dozen films is a virtual compendium of clichés, but the star’s sheer likeability makes it go down as easily as a cup of eggnog.

Burns plays Garry, the de facto patriarch of a Queens, New York brood that includes six siblings and his soon to be 70-years-old mother Rosie (Anita Gillette). The central storyline concerns long-absent father Jim’s (Ed Lauter) desire to spend Christmas with the family he abandoned decades earlier, a wish made more urgent by his impending demise from pancreatic cancer.

The still bitter Rosie will have none of it, and the adult children are fairly evenly divided. Each is going through his or her own issues: Quinn (Michael McGlone) is about to propose to his much younger girlfriend; Sharon (Kerry Bishe) is in a new relationship with a rich, older man; Dottie (Marsha Dietlein Bennett) is consoling herself over her divorce by having an affair with her young gardener; Erin (Heather Burns), married to a Jewish man, is conflicted over her mother’s desire to have her newborn baby baptized; Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald), newly pregnant, is physically abused by her unemployed husband; and Cyril (Tom Guiry) has just emerged from a drug rehab stint.

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As Garry desperately tries to keep the peace among his warring siblings, he finds himself in a burgeoning relationship with Nora (Connie Britton), the attractive caregiver to a longtime family friend (Joyce Van Patten).

Burns handles all of these disparate elements with admirable finesse, and despite the often predictable dialogue and situations the film never fully descends into bathos. Even the predictable happy ending is made palatable by the incisive dialogue and, in particular, the wonderfully nuanced performances by veterans Gillette and Lauter.

Anchoring the film as much as his character does his family, Burns displays such an affable screen presence that one is able to overlook the film’s hoarier aspects. The estimable supporting cast does equally fine work, with McMullen veterans McGlone and particularly the ever-alluring Britton making substantial contributions.

And once again the filmmaker perfectly evokes the gritty outer-borough, working-class milieu that is literally miles away from Woody Allen’s picture-postcard depictions of an Oz-like Manhattan.

Production: Marlboro Road Gang.

Cast: Kerry Bishe, Edward Burns, Heather Burns, Marsha Dietlein Bennett, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Anita Gillette, Tom Guiry, Ed Lauter, Michael McGlone, Nick Sandow, Noah Emmerich, Connie Britton, Joyce Van Patten, Dara Coleman, Brian D’Arcy James, Malachy McCourt, Daniella Pineda, John Solo, Michele Harris, Kevin Kash.

Director/screenwriter: Edward Burns.

Producers: Aaron Lubin, Edward Burns, William Rexer II.

Executive producer: Mike Harrop.

Director of photography: William Rexer II.

Editor: Janet Gaynor.

Composer: PT Walkley.

Not rated, 103 min.