Ed Burns returns to his indie (and Irish) roots

With a name like The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, Ed Burns’ latest film sounds like a festive, somewhat cheesy special extolling the ties that bond. In a way, all of this is true, but it’s also an honest, gritty look at the familial dysfunction that can surface just as the season demands togetherness. In this case, the family in question is the Fitzgeralds, a seven-child Irish clan living on Long Island that’s lacked a true head since the kids’ father walked out two decades back.

After getting a second divorce, and a cancer diagnosis, Papa ‘Big Jim’ Fitzgerald comes calling with a request to spend one last Christmas with his family. Thus begins squabbling among the grown children, most of whom are preoccupied with their own problems. Connie is recently pregnant with her out-of-work, physically abusive husband. Dottie has broken up her marriage and taken up with her landscaper. No one knows if it’s wise to leave unfinished bottles around Cyril, who’s just returned from rehab. The list goes on, though it never becomes difficult to keep straight, and not just because the actors look nothing alike. The oldest brother, Gerry [Ed Burns], spends most of his time brokering peace, until he meets a kindred spirit in Nora [Connie Britton], who inspires him to live his own life a little.

With so many of the characters facing bleak futures, the moments of joy are all the more precious. The romance between Gerry and Nora, especially, reads as a heartwarming second chance at happiness. Britton performs wonderfully, conveying warmth and disappointment simultaneously. It’s a very different part than those she’s been playing as of late on Nashville and American Horror Story. Whatever distance there is between this movie and her other roles, though, chances are Britton, who adopted a boy, Eyob, last year, can relate to the Burns’ ever-relatable themes of family and forgiveness.