The Panella Family Christmas is two hours of late afternoon napping.
A Time To Share The Spirit Of The Season
Facts of the Case
As the oldest of seven siblings, Gerry (Ed Burns, She's the One) is the de facto patriarch of the Fitzgerald family since their father Jim (Ed Lauter, Trouble With the Curve, in one of his final roles) walked out decades ago. With Christmas only days away, Gerry tries to gather his mom (Anita Gillette, Moonstruck) and his siblings together celebrate the holiday—and to discuss whether they should welcome Jim back into the family.
One-man film crew Edward Burns has been churning out movies at a consistent rate since 1995, when his writing and directing debut The Brothers McMullen gained him some attention. Since then, he's banged out one film after another, each sporting a smaller budget than the last. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is more of the same: an ensemble-based look at the ups and downs of Irish Catholic life in New York, except this time it's at Christmas.
Everything here is competently made. Burns is a competent director, and the film takes the no-frills route while still looking nice. Burns's screenplay is competent, mixing profanity-laced tirades with quiet character moments with the various siblings. And the cast is, surprise, competent, with a number of Burns regulars—Heather Burns (Miss Congeniality), Kerry Bishé (Scrubs) and Caitlin Fitzgerald (Damsels in Distress) are the stand-outs among the siblings, and Noah Emmerich (The Americans) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) bring something special to the movie as love interests for two of the Fitzgerald brood. It's all so competent, in fact, that the movie plateaus and coasts along, never actually becoming great at any point.
But maybe The Fitzgerald Family Christmas doesn't need to be great? Burns seems content letting the film do its little thing. By focusing on the nine Fitzgeralds and the vortex of dysfunction swirling around them, the movie explores a host of rich thematic territory in a short amount of time. The serendipity needed to get all of the family members' problems to reach critical mass at the same point is staggering (and staggeringly ridiculous), but it's still effective. The movie soberly looks at how much hurt family members can inflict on each other, even when hurt isn't intended, and how difficult it can be to forgive the people closest to us. A feel-good Christmas movie this ain't—the mature tone and delivery cuts significantly deeper than comparable Hallmark family fare. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas may not be an exceptional film, but it's still a pretty good one, especially in how it zeroes in on small moments.
Magnolia Home Entertainment's release of The Fitzgerald Family Christmas looks and sounds fine. The standard def 2.40:1 widescreen treatment and Dolby 5.1 Surround track are simply there, though PT Walkley's sparse arrangements of traditional Christmas carols are pretty great. While it was originally screened in theaters in an unrated version, this DVD release includes a PG-13 version that cuts out a few scenes and bleeps out some of the cussing. The only extra is a nice commentary from Burns, which is only available on the unrated version.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas gets the job done.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• Theatrical Cut
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