Ed Burns is back, with a comedy about an Irish-American family, this time set around the threat by a dead-beat dad (Ed Lauter) to return to spend the holiday with the wife and the seven children whom he abandoned. I won’t give the ending away, but "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," starring Burns as usual, comes right out of the marketing department. Christmas is the top film-going time of the year in the US. And if Irish-American family life in this film is any indication, people in those families will be scrambling to do anything else but spend the holidays with each other. Maybe they’ll go see "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas." Hence the preview screening it received at the Toronto International Film Festival.
You don’t know whether the Fitzgeralds should go into therapy or just go to confession – probably both. The director/screenwriter leads a cast of misfits who can’t seem to have relationships, or just get into bad ones. When they’re en famille, the repartee is deadly, with every memory repackaged into an insult — and without any filter to protect anyone’s feelings, not even those of the family patriarch, a prodigal father with cancer who has a few months left to live. Think of an Irish wake with a corpse in training. Burns doesn’t have much time for filial piety, but he can write dialogue that will make you laugh as long as you’re not its target. Driven by talk (as Irish-Americans tend to be), his cheaply-made movie doesn’t need to look like much, and it doesn’t. If you’re a fan, you won’t mind that much of the talk sounds recycled. Criticwire grade: B [David D'Arcy]