“The Brothers McMullen” focuses on the lives of three Irish-American brothers, and the struggles they have in their respective relationships with the women in their lives. The brothers were born and raised on Long Island, New York, and all three find themselves, toward the start of the film, living in their married brother Jack’s house. The sarcastic Barry, portrayed by Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan), is a screenwriter, who, as of late, has been lacking the inspiration to write, much to the chagrin of his agent, Marty (Peter Johansen). The youngest of the three brothers, the earnest Patrick, played by Michael McGlone (Person of Interest), is afraid of having to confront the realities of the real world, now that he has graduated from college. As he tells Barry, he never even gave any thought to having to move out of his dorm room. Adding extra pressure on the recent college grad, is his relationship to his Jewish girlfriend Susan (Shari Albert). From all outward appearances, life seems to be looking up for Patrick. Susan’s father has purchased the couple a Manhattan apartment in a good neighborhood, and has guaranteed Patrick a job at his company, but Patrick feels conflicted regarding his relationship with Susan, and the generosity of her father; not knowing if she, and the job, is what he wants for the rest of his life. Complicating matters is that Patrick has been talking with his high school crush, and friend, Leslie (Jennifer Jostyn). She plans to save up enough money to buy a vintage car she’s had her eyes on, and drive to California. The eldest brother Jack, played by Jack Mulcahy (Porky’s), seemingly, has it all together. He and his wife Molly, whom, he has been married to for five years, both work as educators. In addition, Jack coaches the high school basketball team, and has been attending sports management classes at the NYU School of Professional Studies. However, when Molly reminds Jack, near the beginning of the film, that he promised her they would begin to try and have children when she turned thirty, which she has recently done, Jack isn’t thrilled with the prospect of becoming a father. In fact, he comes up with numerous reasons why now is not the right time for them to start a family.
The film, initially introduces the viewer to the majority of the films’ characters at a birthday party for Molly. She is an intelligent and understanding woman, portrayed, in her film debut, by 4-time, Emmy nominee Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights). An additional character, Ann (Elizabeth McKay), is also in attendance at the party. She is a woman that Barry invited, but whom he has no interest in getting involved in a relationship with. At first, what could be merely a filler character, for one scene in the film, winds up playing a more important part, than a viewer might first expect.
Time and again, the brothers’ Catholic roots are brought up, and are interjected into what is transpiring on screen. Patrick, especially, comes across as a staunch believer, but yet he has been giving in to his primal urges with Susan for years, albeit with a good helping of guilt. Jack, who is very much in love with Molly, can’t help wanting to know what it would be like to sleep with Ann. When Ann lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that he is welcome to act on whatever he’s thinking, he struggles to resist, but will he be able to keep his desires in check? Barry, while out apartment shopping, meets an aspiring actress, Audrey (Maxine Bahns) and instantaneously is attracted to her. In addition to not getting the apartment in his price range that he was after, Audrey rejects Barry’s attempts to get her to join him for a drink, by lying to him that she’s married. The two will cross paths again in the movie. The question is, if Audrey is willing to give Barry a chance, will he be ready to commit to one person? Could his burgeoning career, that has recently attracted the interest of Hollywood, deter him from fully investing himself in his relationship with Audrey?
In addition to his role as Barry, which was his film debut, “The Brothers McMullen” was written for the screen, and also marked the directorial debut of Edward Burns. Premiering on January 21, 1995 at the Sundance Film Festival, the film would go on to co-win the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature, sharing the award with “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” directed by Emmy nominee Benjamin Ross (RKO 281). The majority of the film’s 98 minute runtime was shot during weekends, over the course of an eight month period, at Edward Burns’ mother’s house. In addition, Burns’ father, who is credited as an executive producer on the film, and rightly so, gave his son $10,000 toward the film’s estimated $25,000 budget. (As an aside: Edward Burns, who back in 1995 worked as a PA at Entertainment Tonight, was able to give Oscar winner Robert Redford (Ordinary People) a copy of the film, while the two men were riding in an elevator, after Redford had made an appearance on the show. After some very convincing begging on Burns’ part, Redford took the tape, and watched it, and after viewing and liking the film, he entered into Sundance).
Parts comedy, drama, and romance, at its center, the film doesn’t hit any false notes in regard to its characters. The brothers and the women in their lives are real individuals, who Burns allows to express themselves in believable, everyday dialogue. I appreciated the fact that he kept the characters’ flaws, circumstances, and the conflicts they dealt with, grounded in reality. Burns doesn’t linger on any one storyline for too long, allowing all three brothers to get their time on screen, as they’re working through their individual issues. The film, at its core, is a morality play, and as previously mentioned, is very grounded in the reality of most everyday relationships, and the choices people must make to keep their current relationship; or for their betterment, or the betterment of the person they are involved with, move on to someone else. I hadn’t seen the film in a number of years, and was glad I decided to give it a re-watch.