A touching, funny, honest comedy about the relationship between three Irish-American brothers, The Brothers McMullen has thrust Cinderella success on its creator, Edward Burns. Alan Morrison hears from the hottest new screen talent to emerge this year.
Think of Irish-Americans in Hollywood movies: New York cops. second-rate gangsters. comic relief sidekicks — shallow stereotyping that reduces a whole community to an offshoot of the tnain drama. When a more insightful film about the Irish-American experience came along, it was always likely that it would come from the independent sector; but given an atmosphere that has tnade slacker ennui. urban brutalism and designer noir the indie ﬂavours ofthe moment. such a film would probably only manage a couple of festival screenings before being consigned to the lost storeroom of good intentions.
Against this backdrop. the critical and popular success of The Brothers McMullen is remarkable. Like Reservoir Dogs. it's the debut movie of an unknown writer-director-actor — 27-year-old Edward Burns — but unlike the Tartantino phenomenon. it wasn't able to polish up its post-production chores with a cast boost frotn a distributor. The Brothers illeMul/en was shot over an extended. fragmented eight—month period using low-budget money from family and friends - including the initial 825.000 from dad Edward J. Burns. a former NYPD sergeant who served as the film's executive producer. and on- set catering direct from mom’s kitchen.
lt's ﬁtting that a film about fatnily ties should have such strong fatnin commitment in real life. The story has a three-way focus on the twenty/thinysomething McMullen boys — Jack. Barry and Patrick — each of whom is undergoing a complication in their personal relationships. Married Jack is tempted by an affair; bachelor Barry (played by Burns himself) is an aspiring writer who resists any sense of romantic commitment; baby brother Patrick. on the verge of splitting up with his girlfriend. meets a childhood sweethean. These developing problems. and each sibling's involvement in the others' lives. are set against a strong sense ofcultural identity. brought to a head by their widowed mother‘s determination to return home to Ireland and Patrick‘s struggle with his . Catholicism.
‘These are guys from a blue collar. working class community. and that's the kind ofcommunity I came i from.‘ says Burns. ‘so it‘s certainly autobiographical in that sense. The American independents are as
guilty as the Hollywood ﬁlms for portraying that life i as either the trailer park white trash or drug-addicted. ‘ liquor store robbing psychotics. whereas I think the
majority of the people out there are like the McMullens — regular guys who're trying to pay the rent and deal with their relationships.
‘l‘ve had people from all walks of life back home — black guys. Puerto Rican guys. ltalian women — come up to me and say. “Alright. I’m not Catholic and I’m not Irish. but that's my family." No matter where you are in your life. there‘s someone or something in this film that you can relate to. Brothers and sisters are willing to talk about things with one
‘American independents are as guilty as the Hollywood films for portraying [working-class] life as either the trailer park white trash or drug-addicted, liquor store robbing psychotics, whereas the majority of the people out there are regular guys who’re trying to pay the rent and deal with their relationships’
another that they're less willing to do with friends or with their partners. Maybe you put your heart on your sleeve :1 little bit because you have the confidence that the conversation won‘t leave the room.‘
Born in the Queens district of New York. Burns grew up on Long Island (with one brother and one sister) and studied English at college before transferring to the small film school at NYC's Hunter College. He picks up the tale: ‘l got ajob for television shows. basically as a coffee-fetcher. l was there for four years. but the good thing was I had
absolutely no responsibilities, so I could sit and write
all day long. I wrote about seven screenplays. sent them out to Hollywood. they were all rejected. my short films were rejected from every festival. nothing
3“ .\ u
the family way: Edward Burns (second Iett) with the
stars of The Brothers McMullen was really going for me. Mt'rllullett was a story that I had really wanted to tell. I wanted to take a look at Catholicism and sexuality. and I knew that I wanted to tnake a film about brothers and about a fatnily. The other most important thing was that I wanted to tell an Irish tale and talk about the Irish—American experience.‘
After incredible commitment frotn cast and crew. The Brothers Mtullullen was finally finished as an entirely independent project. Thinking it might work as a calling card for a film industry job. Burns took the ﬁlm to Robert Redford's Sundance Festival in January this year. where. out of the blue. it was picked up for international distribution by Fox Searchlight and won the Grand Jury Prize. Rarely is such fairytale ovemight success so deserved. but how has Bums coped with such universal praise being heaped upon him?
‘The only difference was that we were able to move out ofour shitty one-room studio apamnent and into a place that had hot water.‘ he says of the trappings ofstardom. ‘The major adjustment is that now. when I sit down to write a screenplay. l know that I'm going to get an opportunity to tnake that film. Wejust wrapped my second film. Shes the One. on Wednesday. so it‘s in the can. The fact is. I now get paid to do what I want to do and I'm actually
j fulfilling my dreatn. But my tnotn is still in shock.
She can't even fathom the fact that this little project I
had. that I shot in her living room. is now going to go
back home and play in lreland.‘
The Brothers McMullen opens at the MGM Film Centre. Glasgow, and the Cameo, Edinburgh. on Friday 8 December. List readers can see the film for free at special previews at the MGM (Ham) and the Cameo (11.30am) on Sunday 3 - see ad on page 29 for ticket details.
The List 1-14 Dec 1995