If you knew you were dying, and it was Halloween, your first impulse might not be to gather your whole estranged family together for one last night of spooky, costumed tomfoolery. Christmas is this whole other deal. From Michael Keaton's dead dad in Jack Frost to Ed Asner's dying father in The Gathering, Christmas often brings out filmmakers' jolly Yuletide spirit in the form of dead dads. But it's only in the midst of death that we truly appreciate what we have. Pancreatic cancer, for instance. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, written and directed by Edward Burns, concerns the efforts of de facto patriarch Gerry Fitzgerald, played by Burns, to reunite his six siblings with Big Jim Fitzgerald (Ed Lauter), the dying father who ran out on them years before. His mother, Rosie (Anita Gillette), is adamantly opposed to allowing him into their lives; the family's two youngest siblings never really knew their father and deeply resent him. Everyone arrives in the midst of this particular family drama with their own mini-dramas, ranging from abusive husbands to inappropriately young girlfriends, into which Big Jim's return is singularly unwelcome. Gerry mediates between his sullen and angry relatives, negotiating peace and reluctantly urging them to meet their dad. Similarly, Burns's job as director is differentiating and spotlighting everyone in this large ensemble, a storytelling challenge to which he responds with a brisk pace and an eye for revealing moments. The film recalls his 1995 debut, The Brothers McMullen, grounded in Irish family traditions and comedic chemistry among performers.
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