' ' Cinema Romantico: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

When I went on IMDB in preparation for this review to acquire the names of all the actors in the many roles I realized that I could not tell most of the actors apart. And this reminded me that while watching the film I could not tell most of the characters apart. This, however, is a compliment, not a criticism. To have seven kids in a three-bedroom household would no doubt lead to such overwhelming familiarity. At a certain point you stop recognizing who is in the bumper cars you keep bumping into and just notice the cars.

The Fitzgerald family has been reeling ever since their father, Big Joe (Ed Lauter), struck it rich and ditched they and their mother and their working class Long Island neighborhood for the bright lights. Now it’s Christmas, he is dying of cancer, because of course he’s dying of cancer, and he wants back into their lives for at least one night. Thus, self-appointed family matriarch Gerry (Edward Burns), the one left to tend to his mother and his father’s business when he split, goes about eliciting opinions of each sibling as to their father’s wish.

Written and directed by Burns, he ably plays the lead role with a lackadaisical charm perfect for navigating the incessant squabbling of such a sprawling family. He also provides himself with a love interest strikingly played by Connie Britton because, well, I’m fairly certain Burns is incapable of writing himself a role without a requisite love interest. Though, rest assured, each brother and each sister comes equipped with his or her own traditional bit of yuletide drama. A brother is dating a woman too young for him and a sister is dating a man too old for her. A sister is in the midst of divorce and another sister is pregnant AND in an abusive relationship and a brother just got out of rehab……ON CHRISTMAS EVE. Etc., etc., etc.

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. But you know what? This is the sorta s--- that happens to people. People get sick and people get divorced and people end up in relationships they shouldn’t be in and people get hooked on drugs and alcohol. And it’s Christmas – “a time for people with love in their lives” as Billy Mack once sagely observed – when these issues are magnified. And Burns, deftly, IMPROBABLY, does not over play any of it because he plays as, well, the sorta s--- that happens to people.

Magical resolutions do not beckon. The flight of Santa’s sleigh will not tender good will for all. The Fitzgerald Family’s roots of despair run deep but they are, after all, a family and a Catholic family can take off the gloves long enough to go to Mass on Jesus’s birthday and then have a big dinner and pretend everything is okay for a few hours even if it isn’t.

In an early moment Michael McGlone’s older brother Quinn has the film’s key line when his sister Sharon (or was it Erin?) is grilling him and he and she and we realize he does not know where she went to high school, where she went to college, or even how old she is. She is flabbergasted. He says: “I don’t know you from Adam but you’re my little sister and I love you.”


Derek Armstrong said...

I'd like to see this one so I'm not reading your review right now, but let me ask you this: How did you get it? Did you have to do VOD? I may have been looking at my DirecTV wrong the other day, because the VOD options seemed extremely limited.

Alex Withrow said...

I’m a huge admirer of Edward Burns’ films, and I really enjoyed this one. And damn man, you nailed the sentiment of the movie quite flawlessly. Is their family a tad too big? Yeah, but some people have big families. Is there too much bad shit going on in their family? Yeah, but bad shit happens to families. It’s sentimental but overly so. It just… works.

Glad you dug this one!

Nick Prigge said...

Vance: I did watch it on VOD. Although RCN is my cable provider. Is it available for everyone regardless of provider? I have no idea how those things work.

Alex: You're right, it is sentimental but definitely not in that overdone syrupy sort of way. Which is really, really tough to pull off.