THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN is a low budget film by new director Edward
Burns that received the top award, the Grand Jury Prize, at the 1995
Sundance Film Festival. For a low-budget film, I was surprised to see
that it was released by 20th Century Fox, and other than the grainy
Cinematographic images by Dick Fisher, it was extremely professional
and well done.
THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN opens in a graveyard as the father of the
three brothers, Barry (Edwards Burns), Jack (Jack Mulcahy), and Patrick
(Mike McGlone) has just been buried. Their mom leaves immediately
after the funeral for Ireland to be with her long lost boyfriend of 35
years ago. Her admonition to Barry is "promise me you won't make the
same mistake I did."
From the very beginning we see a movie with two intertwined
themes. The main one involves what to do with one's life, especially
regarding love, commitment, marriage, and affairs. As Patrick says to
Barry, "What am I going to do with my life? You know I didn't think
college was actually going to end." Jack, on the other hand, naively
believes that his life is in great shape and proudly proclaims to the
entire family at his wife's 30th birthday dinner that "I am a
progressively modern, politically correct housewife."
The other theme or more correctly the subtext of the movie has to
do with Catholicism in a modern Irish-American family in New York
City. The Catholicism the show deals with has nothing to with the
belief in or the worship of God. The brothers are concerned most about
the rules and regulations of the faith. They violate most of them, but
nevertheless are obsessed with the implications of their "living in
sin." Sometimes they even view this in a positive light as when Patrick
says, "Repression is not such a bad thing." One of his girl friends
keeps wanting him to convert to Judaism and the other describes herself
as a pro-life, vegetarian, ex-Catholic.
As you can already see from the quotes, the script by the director
Edward Burns is one of the high points of the film. Another one of my
favorite lines is when Patrick says, "I don't need any new ideas. I'm
confused enough already". There is a running series of jokes about Amy
Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco since, like Buttafuoco, the brothers live on
Long Island. These jokes are all hilarious and are made doubly funny
since Jack Mulcahy is a dead ringer for Joey Buttafuoco. I wondered if
the writer realized this when he wrote the script?
The actors and actress appeared to be in their first movies. They
all showed promise and made the little mistakes of a rookie major
leaguer. Although the movie was about the brothers, the women, Susan
(Shari Albert), Audry (Maxine Bahns), Molly (Connie Britton), Leslie
(Jennifer Jostyn), and Ann (Elizabeth McKay), were just as good. The
best of the actress has to be Maxine Bahns who had never acted before
this movie. I hope she keeps up her acting career. She brings a
freshness and an unpredictability that makes for a compelling
Perhaps it was realistic, but I was bothered by all of the
drinking in the show. Although the brothers continue to malign their
father as a vicious alcoholic, everyone of them drinks beer continually
in almost every scene. The beer, however, has no effect on them and
their speech remains clear and their thoughts well composed. Sure.
In addition to all of the points mentioned about, there is also
lovely instrumental Irish music by Seamus Egan. Finally, many movies,
particularly those by new writers, start off well, but run out of ideas
by the last act. Here the best part of the movie is the way it is all
wrapped up. Highly satisfying.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes