R...for being one of the most annoyingly anti-Catholic films I've ever seen. I watched this and just thought, "Boy, it's been so long since I've been able to rip apart a movie that hard." It's got language. It's got adultery. Under the guise of being a progressive film, it has a remarkably regressive view of women. It advocates abortion and infidelity. There's sexuality, but no nudity. Big R.
DIRECTOR: Edward Burns
Hi. This is what a dumpster fire looks like. If you have any doubt about my feelings on this movie, don't. It's safely one of the worst films I've seen in a while. I have the exact reason why I hate this movie. It's going to blow your mind, hopefully. It was the epiphany that I needed to get through the film. "But Tim, why did you even watch this movie to begin with?" I heard the title before, but that's about as much as I knew about this movie. I'm not Irish. It doesn't really seem like my kind of movie. The explanation for me watching this movie is that I actually own it. For my birthday, I got the Fox Searchlight 20th Anniversary box set from my wife. I'm still in awe of this box set. But the first movie in the box was, you guessed it, The Brothers McMullen.
Are you ready to hear my great epiphany about why this movie is no bueno? Do you know how you sometimes recognize Christian Rock, despite being kind of generic? Do you know how this kind of applies to Christian films? I'm not talking about films with Christian themes or a theme that could apply to something that speaks to your faith. I'm talking about the movies that are specifically made for the Christian audiences. This is that movie for the anti-Catholic crowd. This movie tries to dunk so hard on Catholicism that it just embarrasses itself. Now, I have never been able to get very deep into Christian movies. I find them kind of cringeworthy. I know that a lot of people like them and I encourage people to keep liking them. Don't let me change your mind on these things. But when I watch these movies, they are sledgehammers when it comes to theme and messages. The best one I saw was Bella, mainly because the movie encourages us to invest in the characters in the story before dropping heavy message. Edward Burns doesn't pull that card out. I know that the '90s were a very specific time for independent film. Richard Linklater kind of changed the game for what is expected in a film. Often, those '90s indies were almost like stage plays that dependent on witty repartee between a bunch of people sitting around while smoking and/or drinking. They often had an edgy quality, saying the things that other, big budget films were afraid to say. The mentality was to model conversations around what people really talked about. The effect wasn't quite that. If anything, characters would try to out-wit each other. (Not "outwit", but "out-wit"). Edward Burns, screenwriter, director, and actor of this movie, was using the template. Scenes mostly involve people talking about things that show how wise they are. But I think Linklater gets something that Burns never did. Having people talk for the entire film in witty discussion means that all of their subtext is kind of exposed. Burns' characters, in particular his own, say everything that they are thinking at all times.
Here's me playing Devil's Advocate with a movie that has truly despicable politics. Let's imagine that I really wanted to slam the Catholic church. Let's say my goal was to have people leave in droves. What I wouldn't do was say my problems with the Catholic church at all. Instead, what I would do is mirror real problems that people had with the Church. Instead of saying that they are evil and outdated, I would show a church that keeps trying to do the right thing and failing. I would show the hopelessness of the church. I would give the characters real moral conundrums. What I wouldn't do is what this film does. Like many of the Christian films I've seen, The Brothers McMullen creates caricatures of these people. Marty's understanding of his faith is laughable. Okay, I know what Burns would say. He'd be talking about the difference between Catholic and Irish Catholic. A lot of the film is about those people who are culturally Catholic. But between Jack and Marty, they have no idea about some real Catholicism 101. I'm talking about stuff like "What is a sin?" No one says, "Don't do that. It's a sin." No one over the age of nine says that. "How bad of a sin is adultery?" Come on. Let's not pretend that this is reality. Also, Marty is remarkably inept at arguing his faith. At one point, everyone refers to him as the faithful one of the family. If he is a practicing, but fallen Catholic, how doesn't he know anything about what constitutes basic morality? I almost get how Finbar and Jack could know so little about faith, but Marty claims to know all about faith at times. He talks about it not as a dodge, but as his central argument about why Jack shouldn't cheat on his wife. A lot of the movie is that Burns doesn't understand Catholic characters at all because he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to make him a real character. Christian films often do the same thing. There's almost a mustache-twirling element to the characters that don't align with ideology. Marty is practically tumbling over his own laces in this film.
I can see 1995 applauding the female characters in this film as so progressive. Marty, the hardcore Catholic, abandons his faith for someone who actually advertises herself as pro-choice and anti-Catholic. That's how she re-introduces herself to the character. It's this heavy conversation and she has no scruples about saying that. It's fine. But even worse, either the women are saints or their evil monsters. Jack, the married one who loves his wife, is seduced a woman. That doesn't make her evil. What makes her evil is that she traps him. She is after him because he's married. She stalks him and corners him. What can Jack do? This evil woman tricked him. Come on. We're better than this. Like Marty, Ann is this two dimensional character that has no sense of dimension to her. She's so over-the-top evil that the relationship doesn't feel real. I get that Jack cheats on his wife. But she mind as well be surrounded by black smoke and cackle every time that she gets what she wants. On the other end of the scale, there's Connie Britton's character. I thought I liked Connie Britton, but this movie definitely calls that into question. Connie Britton plays Molly, Jack's wife. Molly is the absolutely perfect wife. She wants children. She is a teacher. Everyone in the family likes her. She's the puppy that is being crushed in this scenario. Characters aren't allowed to play emotions. Molly's name should be "Faithul housewife" because that's all that she is in the story. She finds Jack's condoms and knows that he cheated. But instead of actually doing anything to actually repair their relationship, they have a low energy, respectful argument and everything is settled. The next time we see them together, they are kissing like nothing had ever happened. It is convenient for the story to have Molly forgive Jack, so everything is forgiven. It's really rough. Finally, there's the female lead in the film. Characters are totally allowed to lie about their intentions. I actually think that this might be the strongest element of Leslie. But she uses the same lie twice on the same person. Okay, it's a variation. But why does Burns write her that way. When she confesses to the first lie, that brings her a sense of vulnerability. But then she lies again. It actually kind of makes her wishy-washy. We have a character that is lying, despite the fact that lying isn't her defining trait, and a character who speaks everything on his mind. It makes for really boring conversation. She says that she is going to leave, but instantly sees the smallest effort and goes back to him. What? It's so degrading.
I don't know if I actually covered this, but the movie actually is just the worst. I know that everything I've written seems to support that arguement, but this movie isn't very good. I read that it was made for only $9,000, but...why? Edward Burns is kind of a real actor. Connie Britton is kind of a real actor. The movie ends (and I could not stop giggling) with Sarah MacLaughlin's "I Will Remember You." Someone had money. Why make this movie look so cheap? Also, a lot of this film really rests on bad choices, not cheap choices. I have seen really well made cheap movies. But the script is abysmal. I mean, it's artificial as heck. The deliveries are just mind-numbingly awful. I know that we're looking at the era of film, so there were probably a lot of one-take scenes. But that doesn't mean that these scenes couldn't be rehearsed. (Okay, you have to pay actors for staying longer.) Also, the editing is really just hot trash. The movie starts off after one scene with a "Five Years Later..." title card. Why is this so poorly done? Here's how you fix that and I didn't even go to film school: Show your opening scene at the funeral. Opening credits. Film starts off with "Five Years Later" across the bottom of the establishing shot after the opening credits. That's far cleaner. Everything in this just so confident in its own genius that it's like watching a trainwreck. It has major actors doing community theatre work. I really get the vibe that anyone was afraid to critique Edward Burns because this is his baby. I used to be afraid of the writer / director / star combo, but I got over it with Clooney. I might be back to square one after The Brothers McMullen. It treats monogamy like only a moron would enjoy it. It has characters say absolutely absurd things to make the themes work. Edward Burns is so cocky with his character that he can do no wrong. Considering that he's the protagonist, I really want to punch him in his stupid face the entire movie. I'm constantly reminded the he wrote and directed this piece of garbage and that he's just defaming a religion that he doesn't subscribe to. It's trash filmmaking. Don't watch this movie. It's really bad.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.