Connie Britton and Edward Burns star in THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS, directed by Burns for Tribeca Film.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012, Edward Burns)

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is going to be frustrating to talk about. Burns contrives a melodrama and then proceeds to remove all the melodramatic fluff. During the scenes when–after the first act concludes–more of these melodramatic events occur, there’s a brief recognition of what he’s achieved. At some point in the second act, after three more events Burns should not be able to get away with occur, I wondered if he was just testing himself. He assembles the finest ensemble cast in years–costarring alongside them. They (and the filmmakers) bring Fitzgerald to a whole new level.

At one point, when Burns (as an actor) is listening to Heather Burns speak, I found it hard to believe was able to contain his zeal at giving her such good dialogue and directing such a good performance. There are a couple other similar scenes with Burns and his costars, but the one with Heather Burns stands out. She might give the film’s best performance. She’s certainly in the top three… or top four.

Fitzgerald concerns a large family in the two days before Christmas. I didn’t gauge the time on how Burns split the days in the run time, though they seem about equal. Burns is the oldest son–he lives with mother Anita Gillette (in one of the other top four performances), who turns seventy the day the film opens. Heather Burns is one of the daughters; in the female children category there are also Marsha Dietlein, Caitlin Fitzgerald (another top four) and Kerry Bishé. The other two male children are Michael McGlone and Tom Guiry (last top four). After the top four, in case you’re wondering, are “the next two,” being Bishé and McGlone.

And Ed Lauter is the absentee father. He’s great too. Everyone’s great. It’s just how to measure them–like I said, frustrating to talk about. It’s hard to think of an ensemble where everyone has such perfect parts. Not “good” or “great” perfect, but actual perfect–they will never be this good in anything again.

Burns himself almost steps back into his own story arc with Connie Britton. He also gives McGlone and Bishé a little story arc, which Burn then uses to imply history about the family without relying on artificial exposition. He does, of course, have exposition, but he’s able to layer it in organically.

I’ve got to get to the technical aspects–I decided on the first sentence Fitzgerald needs a double-length response. P.T. Walkley’s score, which adapts Christmas standards, helps in Burns’s draining of the melodrama. The songs imply the holiday and the confusion behind it for the characters; it’s essential.

Burns shoots Fitzgerald Panavision aspect; it’s another angering feature. Some of the shots are so good, so precise and exact in how Burns positions the characters together, they made me mad. His composition-William Rexar’s photography is key–is unbelievably meticulous as to how he presents the characters interacting with one another.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is wondrous.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexar; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns and Rexar; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Kerry Bishé (Sharon), Edward Burns (Gerry), Heather Burns (Erin), Marsha Dietlein (Dottie), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Connie), Anita Gillette (Rosie), Tom Guiry (Cyril), Ed Lauter (Big Jim), Michael McGlone (Quinn), Nick Sandow (Corey), Noah Emmerich (FX), Joyce Van Patten (Mrs. McGowan), Dara Coleman (JJ) and Connie Britton (Nora).


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