The Brothers McMullen
1995, R, 97 min. Directed by Edward Burns. Starring Edward Burns, Maxine Bahns, Connie Britton, Mike Mcglone, Jack Mulcahy.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Aug. 25, 1995
Finally: A movie that lives up to its hype. The Brothers McMullen has been whispered about as a film to watch ever since receiving the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter. First-time director Burns, an ex-Entertainment Tonight employee, has written a wry and touching script about a family of Irish Catholic brothers, all at different stages of denial toward commitment and Catholicism. The film opens at Mr. McMullen's burial, an event we later learn was a “celebration” for the McMullens, given their father's penchant for abuse of the mental, physical, and alcoholic kind. Mrs. McMullen tells her middle son Barry (Burns) not to waste his life married to someone he doesn't love. Then she departs for Ireland to return to her true sweetheart, who, even after 30-some years, is still waiting to marry her. Flash to five years later, and Barry and his younger brother Patrick (McGlone), the most devout of the trio, are moving back into the family home on Long Island, now owned by eldest brother Jack (Mulcahy) and his wife Molly (Britton). Over the course of the next few months, we follow the brothers as they fall in and out of love, make stupid mistakes, and generally bolster each other “rules and regulations” of Catholicism. While you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate this film, those viewers affiliated with the Pope (lapsed, practicing, and in-between) will appreciate the asides about Lent, the Ten Commandments, and the problem of pre-marital sex in the eyes of the Church. These religious overtones color the film, so much so that a heart-to-heart between Jack and Patrick in the bathroom looks a lot like an act of contrition in a confessional during Easter Week. Burns' scripted dialogue weaves smoothly through the film; it's easy to pretend that you're eavesdropping on a friend's family rather than watching a movie. Granted, Burns gives himself most of the best lines, but even this can be excused given the film's character development. Not only do we come to know and appreciate Jack, Barry, and Patrick even when they're at their most unevolved, but we also get to spend time with the women in their lives, especially Molly and Barry's new girlfriend Audry (Bahns). These women have their shit together, and they know it. So when they spin their wheels while the brothers McMullen sort out their conflicts, it isn't an act of self-flagellation. Rather, it is the process that women go through when they realize they have met someone who is worth the effort, flaws and all. The Brothers McMullen is certainly worth the effort. It is a rare treat of a film: a debut that exudes freshness and polish all at once. Welcome to the big screen, Mr. Burns.