The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
Directed by Edward Burns
Burns's latest opens with the observation that the holidays can suck for people who are already unhappy or at odds with their families; it will go on to observe that idea seven more times. Here is a Christmas movie lacking even a single character that views family or December 25 as something to be enjoyed rather than endured. And while that’s no doubt a common attitude, it’s not likely many families experience the range of dramas seen here: substance abuse, spousal abuse, religious tension, adultery, terminal diseases and unwanted pregnancies, all of which emerge in a single day. Even 9/11 makes a cameo.
That's to say it’s an earnest film but not a successful one. Burns is clearly genuine in his story about seven troubled siblings debating whether to let their dying and estranged father celebrate his last Christmas with them over the objections of their mom. He understands that long-running family issues can’t be fixed in a day, but he’s too simple otherwise and ambiguous in places he shouldn’t be. The problem is the script. There are some accomplished actors here, including Ed Lauter, Connie Britton and Noah Emmerich, but none make much of an impression among almost 20 major roles. Not that trimming the family tree wouldn’t have helped with sloppy exposition like, “We’re brother and sister and we don’t even know each other well” or “We weren’t prepared to deal with life, but life showed up.” As a director Burns keeps it simple, though a crucial moment of violence is edited so confusingly it seemed accidental rather than malicious.
Fitzgerald brushes off the complexities of family life with limp clichés, and what should be the climatic scene of the movie—the decades-long silence between mother and father finally broken—doesn’t even appear onscreen, conveyed instead through significant nods. It’s the kind of dynamic that maybe could work in a novel, but this film is already so thin it’s just like hearing a story thirdhand.
Opens December 7