Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
Nothing says dysfunction like Christmas in some families and we see it all in a new film by Edward Burns. This is the self-consciously titled "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas", which could be titled "Irish American in New York" given the past of Edward Burns' films. The story is quite well acted and swift, despite some overly melodramatic touches (namely the intrusive score) and a range of bad behavior which becomes dizzying. No character gets off easy here and the audience could have been in for a heavy load were it not for the heartfelt acting and quick pace.
Edward Burns stars as Gerry, the addled makeshift patriarch of the family who runs an Irish pub. He lost a fiancée in 9-11 and had to assume responsibility given that his cad of a father abandoned the family. He has sibling rivalry with his brother Quinn (Michael Mcglone) a hothead exec who is fond of twenty year old girls. None of Jerry's sisters want to spend a birthday with their well meaning but meddlesome mother, Rosie (Anita Gillette). There is the selfish Dottie (Marsha Ditlein), the selfish and secular Erin (Heather Burns), the selfish and bohemian Abbie (Daniella Pineda) and the selfish Cougar Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald). There is one generous sister Sharon ( Kerry Bishe) but she is a frequent victim of domestic violence.
These are all side stories. The crux of the story is whether to let the deadbeat and terminally ill dad (nicely played by Ed Lauter) back into the family during Christmas.
But of course.
To complicate matters, a druggy brother (Tom Guiry) is about to get out of rehab at the exact moment of a family meltdown.
And Rosie just won't budge.
As overly dramatic as the story is, it is nicely acted. The events are not lethargic with molasses and the cuts are quick and rapid, giving the domestic Sturm and Drang some much needed apprehension. You do feel for these characters and their feelings are tangible and solid. We want to see Gerry succeed and relax given that he carries so much within him and he is so well meaning.
The problem is only that the story is so overloaded that it becomes predictable at its end, a little like a Lifetime Movie. Might it have been better to leave out a couple of sister subplots and give the dad a bit more to do? We know that he is remorseful but beyond that, there is not much provocative exchange with him and Rosie.
The rapid editing is a plus, allowing us not to feel so bogged down with an abundance of sister-narcissism. At one point, with Gerry racing back and forth to convince and placate mama and sisters , it could have had the quality of a suspenseful family noir, but then the story lags a bit with the budding of a romance between Good Guy Gerry and an earthy nurse Nora (Connie Britton) and they bond but don't exchange much spontaneity beyond a little French (or Irish) kissing.
The performance of Ed Lauter with his stern Calvinist expression has enough tension and ambivalence to give the story its poignance , no matter that its end is too warm and fuzzy. Still an added dash of ambiguity (with less explanation) could have gone a long way.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org