By Don Simpson | November 23, 2012
Director: Edward Burns
Writer: Edward Burns
Starring: Edward Burns, Kerry Bishé, Connie Britton, Heather Burns, Dara Coleman, Marsha Dietlein, Noah Emmerich, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Anita Gillette, Tom Guiry, Ed Lauter, Michael McGlone, Daniella Pineda, Nick Sandow, Joyce Van Patten
Like any good Irish-Catholic family, the Fitzgerald clan features a lot of siblings. The eldest of seven children, Gerry (Edward Burns) adopted the role of patriarch when their father (Ed Lauter) walked out on them over twenty years ago. Fortysomething, single and childless, Gerry still resides with their mother (Anita Gillette), while the other siblings each have their own individual dramas to contend with — individual being the operative word, as none of the siblings show much desire to share their personal problems with each other, unless forced.
At the onset of writer-director Edward Burns’ The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, Gerry is attempting to convince his siblings to celebrate their mother’s 70th birthday together. Gerry has an ulterior motive for the gathering; he wants the family to vote on whether their long-estranged father should be allowed to spend Christmas Day with them. Unfortunately, their mother’s birthday is only a couple days before Christmas, and the siblings have absolutely no desire to spend two days with each other during the same week. Instead, Sharon (Kerry Bishé) and Quinn (Michael McGlone) opt to spend a couple days with their significant others (Noah Emmerich and Daniella Pineda, respectively). Dottie (Marsha Dietlein) is too busy enjoying an extra-marital affair with her landscaper (Johnny Solo). Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) must give some very unwelcome news to her abusive husband (Dara Coleman) and then contend with the aftermath. Erin (Heather Burns) has been forced to keep a secret from her husband (Nick Sandow), which is eating away at her. The only sibling with a valid excuse is Cyril (Tom Guiry), who is stuck in rehab until Christmas Eve.
The offspring are split on their opinions of whether they should welcome their father back into the familiar fold, with the three youngest obviously feeling more resentment and anger towards the man than the four older siblings who spent more of their childhood with him. It is quite apparent that each of the seven siblings have felt the effects of their father’s abandonment in their own unique way, the most obvious being their own inability to commit to normal relationships of their own. (Three of the siblings are dating people who are half or double their age.) In the end, it will not matter what they decide concerning their father; it is their mother’s home, and she will make the final decision.
While taking on the notions of family values, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas really hones in on the concept of forgiveness. As the film stresses, forgiveness is a core component of the Christian religion, though most modern Christians seem to have forgotten about this. Just as some Christians only set foot in church once a year (Christmas), Burns’ plea is for Christians to show forgiveness at least one day a year as well.
Over the years, Christmas has de-evolved into a much resented day filled with more family drama than cheer and glad tidings. There is no question that this is due to our increasingly selfish perspectives on life, and the disintegration of family values. Of course, as someone who moved 2,000 miles away from his family, I am certainly not in a position to lecture anyone on family values; but it is my own life’s choices that make me question my own motives. Since when did children stop confiding in their parents, consulting them for advice, involving them in their life? We have moved away from the age-old notion of “father knows best” to a world in which we all think we know everything. We started dealing with problems on our own, or we pay a psychiatrist to help us — in Gerry’s case, he confides in Nora (Connie Britton), an outsider (of non-Irish descent, no less), using her as a sounding board for all of his family’s craziness. Is that why our family units have grown apart or fallen apart completely — we can no longer confide in, or rely upon, each other?
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is a densely-packed and fairly complex story that plays like a Biblical parable written by a modern day Charles Dickens. Sure, some of the siblings draw the short straw and get abbreviated screen time, but that goes along with being a sibling in a large family, right? Not everyone gets treated equally. It is Burns’ penchant for portraying a working class family naturally that really makes this film work; and he propagates the screen with a team of actors who handle the harsh emotional realities of everyday life quite adroitly. Burns does not shy away from the more depressing aspects of the working class lifestyle — so, yes, there will be plenty of tears in the audience.