No one does heartfelt family dramas like Edward Burns. His stories bleed into real life. Watching his movies, one feels like a distant cousin or relative of the 44 year old writer/director/producer/actor who serves up his finest creation since She’s The One. A heartfelt ode to family commitment and loyalty through the brush fire of a painful past.
Burns is the family patriarch Gerry, who finds out that his long gone father(the invaluable Lauter) suddenly wants to come back for Christmas. His mother, Rosie(the wonderful Gillette) wants no part of him and is sticking to her guns. Watching Burns and Gillette quarrel over issues and discuss matters of the heart, you get the feeling they are related in real life.
That’s just the power of Burns’ filmmaking. Everything looks relative in a Burns production and it gets inside your bones in a great way. Among the kids, each have their own issues. Quinn(Burns alum McGlone) wants to stop being a bachelor and propose to his young girlfriend. Erin(Heather Burns) is a new mom struck with secret grief and a burden beyond anything physical. Sharon(Bishe) is dating an older man and taking flack for it. Connie(Fitzgerald) has a boyfriend that shifts his troubles onto her shoulders.
Poor Gerry is trying to bring the family back together while feeling uneasy about his father’s return while locking eyes with a nurse Nora(the amazing versatile Connie Britton). Burns just sets up a camera and unleashes dysfunctional large family dialogue that can be wickedly sinister, emotional and all together a dialect only prescribed in his own movie land. For years, Burns has abandoned the Hollywood assist in filmmaking and done movies his own way, sticking to his heart instead of someone’s else’s checkbook.
Here, that gamble pays out in full. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas has bitter truths and revelations that don’t need to be divulged here but wraps them up in a story that rings true with any soul. It’s honest and entertaining, sparring no hardship or drama for the overall grace of renegade production.
The resolution isn’t a neat bow made out of recycled garbage but instead strung together by a convincing realization. Burns and Britton have an easy going chemistry in their scenes that doesn’t feel rehearsed. Overall, the cast is clinically adept at handling these characters, especially Burns, who can do more with an expression and a couple lines than most actors. This is his ship and if I were you, I would think about hitching a ride on his latest cinematic trip. It’s not perfect and doesn’t make you think Oscar, but it’s a keeper and the credit goes to Burns and his versatile skill set. This is one of the better Christmas movies to debut in a long time and that is because it’s honest and doesn’t pull a single punch about family politics.