Edward Burns

Director | Edward Burns

At multiple points throughout his career, Edward Burns has been a disappointment. He’s not currently a disappointment–in fact, his now five-year absence from feature filmmaking is distressing, given his last film’s success; Fitzgerald Family Christmas is great. But many times over his eleven film, seventeen year filmmaking career–writing, director, producing, and starring–he has disappointed. Over those seventeen years, Burns grew as a filmmaker, changed as a filmmaker, but never found consistent quality. Some excellent films, definitely, but also some stinkers.

Burns and Connie Britton in MCMULLEN.

When The Brothers McMullen came out in 1995, studios had just started getting into their nineties flirtation with independent and low budget filmmaking. Burns shot McMullen on a shoestring budget using borrowed cameras. His co-producer (and cinematographer and editor) Dick Fisher’s filmography is otherwise filled with very low budget East Coast independent films. And if I’m remembering right, only one actor in McMullen had a SAG card–Jack Mulcahy, who got it on Porky’s almost fifteen years earlier. McMullen, shot on 16mm, usually indoors to cover Burns not having filming permits–the film’s making itself has a wonderfully scrappy story–looks at three brothers. There’s eldest Mulcahy, baby Mike McGlone, and problem middle child Burns. Burns gives McGlone the best story arc and the film’s best writing, while Mulcahy gets to narrate his own storyline (occasionally); Burns gives himself the romantic dramedy with (at the time) real-life girlfriend Maxine Bahns. To varying degrees, all three brothers just need to grow up a little, something the women in their lives wait patiently for them to accomplish.

Edward Burns, Jack Mulcahy, and Mike McGlone star in THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN, directed by Edward Burns for Fox Searchlight.
The Brothers McMullen (1995). ★★★. 2010 review
McMullen is a singular film for Burns as a director in numerous ways, but nothing more than how well he does with the constraints. When he’d return to micro-budgets fifteen years later, he’d have DV to use; shooting 16mm, the film exudes texture. The silent moments are full, heavy with the film’s visual grain. Burns and Fisher rely a lot on that visual tone, especially with Mulcahy and McGlone’s story lines. All of the performances are good, especially McGlone and Connie Britton (as Mulcahy’s wife), and there’s a capable nimbleness to the film.

Before he thought he was movie star, marry a supermodel handsome, Burns was content Eddie Haskelling it with a cane. In MCMULLEN with McGlone and Mulcahy.

As far as a legacy goes, Brothers McMullen doesn’t really have one. Fox Searchlight has put it out in studio retrospects and a single release blu-ray–at the time of its original home video release, Fox Home Video put out a very nice LaserDisc, complete with insightful Burns commentary–but the audience for the film (like Burns’s audience itself) is stagnant. There was initial interest in the film, with Burns as the boy next door version of Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino. He just never generated similarly dedicated fan bases.

SHE’S THE ONE: McGlone tries to mansplain to Aniston, who’s heard it all before–usually Thursdays at 8 / 7 Central.

Maybe he would have worked up a fan base if his next film, She’s the One, hadn’t been such a misfire. With a bigger budget and McMullen as a sales pitch, Burns got Cameron Diaz as the titular She (sort of), Jennifer Aniston in a major supporting part and John Mahoney as the dad in the movie. Burns brought back (still) real-life girlfriend Maxine Bahns and Mike McGlone from McMullen and then gave himself a much bigger part. Burns and Bahns are in a whirlwind romance, McGlone is married to Aniston and cheating on her with Diaz. Diaz is Burns’s ex-girlfriend. It could be a comedy of errors if all the characters weren’t willfully deceitful. She’s the One is a slick, mainstream, ostensibly eclectic New York romantic comedy. It’s so eclectic it’s got a Tom Petty soundtrack.

She’s the One (1996). ★½. 2016 review

That Tom Petty soundtrack is excellent, which is good, because it’s about the only excellent thing about She’s the One. Burns’s script is a wreck, both in terms of plotting and detail. He’s constantly falling back on homophobia and slut shaming for jokes; those devices should play worse, but McGlone’s such a loathsome jerk they’re in line. Burns doesn’t give himself much of a better character than McGlone gets, but McGlone gets a lot more to do; he suffers the attention. Aniston and Mahoney are able to get through. Diaz isn’t. Bahns is great until her part goes down the drain. Everyone is a caricature, waiting for their next witty line to deliver. Burns is terrified to show any non-ironic sincerity.

Sadly, there is no TAXI DRIVER homage. Cameron Diaz and Burns in SHE’S THE ONE.

I’ve never heard anyone speak highly of She’s the One. At the time of its release, the Tom Petty soundtrack album might have gotten some attention. It is a fantastic album. Fox has put out a blu-ray, which I suppose is a good thing, though I can’t imagine recommending the film to anyone myself. The worst part about it is how Burns slaughters the momentum of McGlone’s acting career, which McMullen started (and championed).

Following She’s the One, Burns went and got himself cast in a high profile blockbuster, Saving Private Ryan. Pretty soon, Burns’s attempts at furthering both a directing career and an acting one would have a big impact but not with his third film, No Looking Back. It came out four months before Private Ryan.

It looks like Lauren Holly is going to have to listen to Burns’s nonsense for all of NO LOOKING BACK, but just for the first half.

While No Looking Back is a tonal shift from She’s the One–it’s not just a downer, but one without any laughs for the viewer and only occasional ones for some of the characters–Burns does bring back some of the crew. Frank Prizi photographs, Susan Graef edits, both to much greater success than before. No Looking Back is a patient, tediously humdrum drama about small-town New York (but not Long Island) waitress Lauren Holly. Her ex-boyfriend’s return threatens her current relationship with Mr. Right. Burns plays the ex-boyfriend, who’s sort of a variation on his previous characters, only not played for sympathy, while Jon Bon Jovi plays Mr. Right. Connie Britton is back from McMullen, playing Holly’s sister. No Looking Back also has Ted Hope returning to produce; he executive produced McMullen and produced She’s the One. No Looking Back was his last collaboration with Burns.

No Looking Back (1998). ★★★½. 2017 review

No Looking Back has a somewhat rocky first half, cushioned nicely by Prizi’s photography, and then it does an about-face halfway through–once Holly finally gets to be the lead–and gets real good. Burns uses a few Patti Scialfa tracks (it’s a constant bummer the movie doesn’t have a soundtrack album) and then some Springsteen. There’s no fanfare about either artist contributing music (Scialfa’s contributions are otherwise unreleased, Springsteen’s are narratively significant classics), but having the Springsteen music in the narrative, on the soundtrack, changes the film’s course. It finishes thoughtful, downbeat, and as rending as Burns can make it. The cast helps a lot and Burns is able to smooth the rocky first half thanks the crew and music.

Once Burns just admits he wants to make a 100 minute Springsteen video, NO LOOKING BACK gets good fast.

According to Burns, his friends called the film Nobody Saw It, which is about right. Polygram released it theatrically, barely, and on home video, temporarily (it went out of print fast). Fox subsequently put it out in a Burns DVD three-pack–“Stories from Long Island”–but it too seems to be out of print. The film requires some indulgence, just because the first half frustrates as Burns (acting) and Bon Jovi basically mansplain everything to Holly until she finally gets her agency. Once she does, however, No Looking Back gets good fast. It’s unfortunate no one sees it.

Brittany Murphy and David Krumholtz, Burns’s first star couple. SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK.

With the exception of Frank Prizi returning as photographer, Burns’s next film–2001’s Sidewalks of New York–is a complete break from his previous pictures. Most significantly, he’s got Margot Bridger producing with him; she goes on to produce his next four films. But Sidewalks is also not a “Long Island story.” Instead, it’s all Manhattan, all the time, and the cast is much more mainstream, whether it’s stars on the rise–Rosario Dawson and Brittany Murphy (and arguably David Krumholtz)–established character actors (Dennis Farina and Stanley Tucci), or maybe movie star Heather Graham (career newly energized from Boogie Nights). Graham and Burns were dating at the time, so obviously she’s his love interest in the film. Sidewalks is all about the romantic trials and tribulations of its characters, with Burns using the camera to directly interview them between the scenes.

Edward Burns and Heather Graham star in SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK, directed by Burns for Paramount Classics.
Sidewalks of New York (2001). ★★★. 2011 review

Sidewalks is an accessible, affable, solid effort from Burns. He doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, he just gets it rolling pretty well. The film has its problems, some significant ones, but it also has some excellent performances. Burns, as an actor, lets himself hang back a little; he’ll just watch as Farina gnaws on their scenes, for example. Dawson, Murphy, and Krumholtz are all excellent. Graham is just sort of there, but not in a damaging way. It’s “just” an amusement–not too deep, not too slight–and a successful one.

Graburns. Heatward. Maybe it wasn’t SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK’s box office fizzle, maybe Heather Graham and Edward Burns just couldn’t come up with a couple name.

While I know I saw Sidewalks of New York in the theater with two other people, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone besides the two people I saw it with seeing it. This film, more than any other, seems like Burns attempting to leverage his mainstream movie stardom–as it was–into interest for his directing efforts. Even if he had the rest of the cast overshadow him. Regardless of its strengths, weaknesses, and all around sturdiness, Sidewalks of New York is mostly forgotten. At least I think it’s mostly forgotten. Again, I’ve never heard of anyone else seeing it. It doesn’t have a blu-ray, the DVD is out of print, but you can stream it in HD. So maybe someone else has finally seen it. Possibly.

No, Elijah Wood, no one is talking to you. ASH WEDNESDAY.

Burns followed Sidewalks with Ash Wednesday the next year. It’s Burns’s first film where he takes top acting billing (except when due to alphabetical cast) and is again set in Manhattan, again with Margot Bridger producing, and again with Rosario Dawson costarring. The film is set in the early eighties, complete with a David Shire score and an iMovie sepia filter on the photography to make it seem old timey. Freshly Frodo Elijah Wood is the second male lead, playing Burns’s brother, who comes home after being presumed dead. Wood’s the tough Irish mob kid, Dawson’s his wife, Burns is in love with the wife.

Elijah Wood and Edward Burns star in ASH WEDNESDAY, directed by Edward Burns for Focus Features.
Ash Wednesday (2002). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2009 review

Ash Wednesday is terrible. Even though Burns’s direction is fine, maybe even good for the opening act (pre-Wood), once Wood shows up, it’s a terrible. Wood’s awful, Dawson’s either miscast or mortified, Burns’s character is a mess. Ash Wednesday is a great example of how talented actors and filmmakers can still come together and create a truly atrocious motion picture. The film mercilessly wastes the strong supporting cast–including Oliver Platt, James Handy, and Peter Gerety. There aren’t enough negative adjectives to properly describe Ash Wednesday. It should be avoided at all costs.

Burns does Rosario Dawson no favors in ASH WEDNESDAY.

And, it turns out people did avoid Ash Wednesday at all costs (it opened in two theaters). The film’s very much an end to Burns’s initial filmmaking trajectory; it also coincides with his big time movie star roles drying up. I remember seeing it in college–not in one of the two theaters on release, but VHS and maybe later on DVD. The concept–Irish Mean Streets meets romantic potboiler in dirty old New York–isn’t inherently a bad one, but Burns doesn’t have much more than the concept. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone else watching the movie, which is good. Like I said before, it should be avoided at all costs. Especially if you like anyone involved.

Burns and Krumholtz in LOOKING FOR KITTY.

Burns took a couple years off from directing; when he returned, it was with a very different kind of film. Looking for Kitty also starts of Burns’s second filmmaking trajectory. It’s is another Manhattan picture. It brings back McMullen’s Connie Britton–as Burns’s love interest in a super-small subplot–and Sidewalks’s David Krumholtz. Krumholtz is an upstate gym coach in the city trying to find his wayward wife; he hires questionably capable P.I. Burns to track her down. Margot Bridger returns to produce, but other crew additions prove far more significant–producer Arthur Lubin, cinematographer William Rexer, and composer P.T. Walkley started on Kitty and went on to collaborate with Burns on every subsequent film (to date).

David Krumholtz and Edward Burns star in LOOKING FOR KITTY, directed by Burns and for ThinkFilm.
Looking for Kitty (2004). ★★★★. 2007 review

Looking for Kitty is seventy-five minutes of spectacular filmmaking. Burns doesn’t just have the plotting down (the film premiered at ninety-five minutes, which hasn’t been released so there’s twenty minutes cut), he also finally gives himself a great role. Not just a great role, but a great lead performance. Some of it is realizing he and Britton’s chemistry is off the charts, some of it is just rethinking how to approach a film’s budgetary constraints in post-production (Sarah Flack’s editing is essential). At the time, it was easily Burns’s best film and signs of something special to come.

LOOKING FOR KITTY reveals the Burns secret–he’s better when he doesn’t have a love interest. Not just in his acting, but in his writing and directing.

Like all post–2000 Burns films, I haven’t really ever heard of anyone else seeing Looking for Kitty. The DVD box art is terrible, the short run time is concerning. KittyIt deserves a reputation and availability. I only got around to seeing it because I wanted to tease my wife about her Krumholtz crush during “Numb3rs”’s run. Even though Burns made a couple more excellent films after Looking for Kitty, it’s a singular achievement in his filmography. The innovative brevity is all Kitty’s own. Burns never repeats his successes (just his failures).

The stars of THE GROOMSMEN sit around and remember working on $50 million movies.

Of course, Burns follows up that innovative narrative work with some of his least creative work: The Groomsmen. The Groomsmen is about a guy getting married (Burns) and all his thirty-something male friends who are either married, divorced, or somewhere in between, and how they realize they need to grow up. Burns is the groom. The friends are all played by male actors whose careers hadn’t been “hot” since the late nineties–John Leguizamo is the gay one, Matthew Lillard is the happily married one (to Shari Albert, returning from Brothers McMullen and getting a small part but more than her cameos in No Looking Back and Looking for Kitty), Jay Mohr is the obnoxious one, Daniel Logue is the one with the failing marriage (to Heather Burns, no relation). Brittany Murphy’s back from Sidewalks. She’s barely present, playing Burns’s wife-to-be. Hijinks, male bonding, personal growth ensue.

The cast of THE GROOMSMEN, directed by Edward Burns for Bauer Martinez Studios.
The Groomsmen (2006). ★½. 2009 review

The Groomsmen is a weak comedy. Burns doesn’t have enough material for anyone (Lillard basically just wishes people were better friends to one another), least of all himself. His direction is boring, the cinematography (from Rexer) is flat; Groomsmen is a sitcom in search of situations and comedy. As an actor, Burns doesn’t do much (or have much to do) and as a director… well, at least he gets decent performances out of some of the cast. Including Logue, which I didn’t believe was possible before seeing Groomsmen.

Hi, you may remember us, we all used to audition for the same roles.

Besides being an exceptional disappointment after Looking for Kitty, The Groomsmen doesn’t really have many distinctive, lasting features. It’s readily available (still in print on DVD, no blu-ray–thank goodness because it’d look awful–lots of streaming options), but I’d certainly never recommend anyone track it down. It’s a waste of its cast. Even though it’s not an accurate summation of Burns’s filmmaking faults, it sure seems like it could be one. It’s not though. It’s just a weakly written, disinterestedly directed bland thirtysomething white guy comedy.

I’m sure PURPLE VIOLETS fails Bechdel but it does it beautifully. Selma Blair and Debra Messing.

But then comes Purple Violets. It’s back in Manhattan–after Groomsmen’s City Island, Bronx setting–with Selma Blair as an aspiring novelist who runs into old boyfriend Patrick Wilson. Blair’s best friends with Debra Messing, who dated Burns (giving himself not just not the lead, but not even the romantic lead) in college. Burns is best friends with Wilson and still enamored with Messing. While there are still subplots and story lines for the supporting cast, Blair’s the protagonist (the first time Burns has had a definite protagonist since Ash Wednesday and his first female one since No Looking Back). Margot Bridger returns to produce (her last collaboration with Burns). Also back are supporting cast members Dennis Farina and Max Baker (who appeared in Looking for Kitty and becomes a regular supporting player after Violets). And Logue, of course. Logue is back. Purple Violets was also the first feature film released direct-to-iTunes.

Selma Blair stars in PURPLE VIOLETS, directed by Edward Burns for iTunes.
Purple Violets (2007). ★★★★.

Purple Violets is great. Burns’s writing, his direction, William Rexer’s photography, P.T. Walkley’s music, all great. But it’s Blair’s movie and it’s Blair’s show. She makes it happen. All the acting is excellent (including Burns in his smaller role). Logue is playing a British guy, which should be terrible but is instead fantastic. Purple Violets opens strong and just keeps going. It’s Burns’s most wholly ambitious work when it comes to characters; he’s as overly meticulous on the pacing, both visual and narrative. Purple Violets is a leaps and bounds comeback after Groomsmen.

Selma Blair and Patrick Wilson flirt in a book store and are interested in what each other does.

Even though Purple Violets ostensibly had the weight of that iTunes Store exclusivity behind it… it took me four years to get around to watching the movie. Digital-only, watching at home, an opening weekend event it was not. The film soon got a weak DVD release (possibly the first Burns home video release without an audio commentary track); it hasn’t had a blu-ray release and isn’t available for streaming purchase or rental. Not even through iTunes. Purple Violets lack of recognition is simultaneously perplexing and infuriating. The whole iTunes exclusivity thing seems like it was a big mistake; though it’s not like Selma Blair’s ever gets acting credit. Purple Violets is cursed, apparently, even thought it’s phenomenal.

Occasional bikinis and all, Kerry Bishé is more a stand-in for Burns than Matt Bush. NICE GUY JOHNNY.

After a three-year break–his longest since Sidewalks of New York–Burns returned in 2010 with Nice Guy Johnny, kicking off the last phase of his directing career. William Rexer isn’t just photographing, he’s now producing alongside Burns and Aaron Lubin; P.T. Walkley is back on music. Editor Janet Gaynor joins the team–she’ll edit Johnny and Burns’s two subsequent, final films. Nice Guy Johnny stars Matt Bush as an idealistic young man with an overbearing fiancée who ends up meeting free spirit Kerry Bishé while hanging out in the Hamptons. So technically back to Long Island, but not really. Burns takes a supporting role as Bush’s uncle. Max Baker is back, along with Callie Thorne (who had a small part in Sidewalks).

Kerry Bishé and Matt Bush star in NICE GUY JOHNNY, directed by Edward Burns for FilmBuff.
Nice Guy Johnny (2010). ★★½. 2010 review

There’s excellent acting from Bush and Bishé, there’s beautiful direction, there’s great music and photography. But there’s also not much of a script. When the film works, it works. When it doesn’t, it’s too slight. In the end, there’s more slightness than depth–albeit with occasional great depth (usually thanks to the leads, especially Bishé). Johnny is too short and Burns rushes it way too much. He and Rexer technically rock it, but the script’s not there.

Life’s a Bishé! Wokka wokka.

I remember Nice Guy Johnny had a great trailer. After some film festivals, it went straight to DVD and streaming. No blu-ray, but it’s still available streaming and in HD so people can see it. It’s a strange misfire from Burns in its not a failure, it’s just nowhere near successful enough. Instead, it’s just sort of there.

Bishé getting to be sad and angry. Sometimes she gets to be sad and not angry. Sometimes.

Burns’s next film was a return to the couples romantic comedy form–Newlyweds has newlyweds Burns and Caitlin FitzGerald going through a rough patch when his long lost little sister, Kerry Bishé, shows up in Manhattan. There’s also drama with FitzGerald’s sister and her husband. It’s like a smaller scale Sidewalks of New York, complete with the characters speaking into the camera in interview.

Newlyweds (2011). ★. 2017 review

It’s also terrible. It’s sort of not, because Burns gets great performances out of the actors, but can’t make a movie out of what they’ve shot. For instance, Max Baker is back and he’s terrible. So bad I thought he was doing a terrible British accent and Baker is, in fact, British. In terms of using genial misogyny to get a joke across, it calls back to She’s the One. Except Newlyweds isn’t funny. It’s not a funny movie. It’s this dramatic, miserable, mean-spirited look at the lives of obnoxious New Yorkers. Burns doesn’t bother giving the characters depth and then can’t navigate their shallowness. It’s annoying.

NEWLYWEDS FitzGerald and Burns cross the streets of New York.

Newlyweds is another Burns movie I’ve never heard about anyone seeing. Indie movies like Newlyweds don’t get talked about a lot, which sucks for some of them. But the less said or thought about Newlyweds the better. There’s something about Burns’s failures. They’re embarrassing because they imply he’s so wrong-headed about something he couldn’t possibly be intentionally doing something well. Mostly as a writer, but also as an actor in the early days. Newlyweds should be forgotten. It doesn’t need to be preserved for posterity. It can be lost. So, of course, it’s still readily available to stream.

It’s a Christmas movie, of course there’s hugging and smiling. Kerry Bishé and Anita Gillette in FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS.

For Burns’s next film–and his last one to date–he brought back all his best actors. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas brings back Mike McGlone and Connie Britton from Brothers McMullen–McGlone’s first time back since She’s the One–Heather Burns from Groomsmen, and then all his final phase regulars–Kerry Bishé, Marsha Dietlin, Caitlin FitzGerald. And he does a Christmas dramatic comedy with a huge cast and P.T. Walkley adapting Christmas songs into the score.

Connie Britton and Edward Burns star in THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS, directed by Burns for Tribeca Film.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012). ★★★★. 2012 review

Burns and William Rexer shoot Fitzgerald Family Christmas in Panavision (or Panavision aspect), which is a first for Burns. Like how well his dialogue works, Burns’s Panavision composition is frustratingly good–almost showy. Burns exhibits a confidence he hasn’t earned or visibly developed in his filmmaking. There’s some great writing, some great acting, some beautiful photography. Fitzgerald’s great.

It’s just not FAMILY without Mike McGlone.

I am an unabashed Fitzgerald Family Christmas fan. I saw it as soon as I could rent it on iTunes. I bought the blu-ray; I didn’t go see it in the limited theatrical it had. I thought about it though. Burns finally paid off and there was no one there to see it. Fitzgerald Family Christmas does have some kind of a popularity. I don’t think I’d call it a reputation exactly, but it has a popularity. At least based on Burns’s Twitter. It’s streaming, it’s on disc. It’s out there. Maybe someday it’ll get its due.

Right after Purple Violets. And Looking for Kitty. And No Looking Back. And Brothers McMullen. Almost Sidewalks of New York, but no.

Burns’s successes irregularly litter his filmography. The odd numbers are better for a while, then the even, then the odd. I’m not sure I’m actually looking forward to whatever he does next–he hasn’t made a film since Fitzgerald, though he did write and direct the ten episodes TV show, “Public Morals” for TV (I’ve watched the first episode and nothing further). But whatever he does, I know I’ll see it. And it’ll either be good or bad. It might be mediocre but probably not. And if it’s bad, chances are the next one after will be good.

Newlyweds (2011, Edward Burns)

Newlyweds is an exceptional disappointment. Not really because of the concept–upper upper middle class New Yorker whining–or the execution–Burns has his actors speak into the camera, the characters giving interviews–but because it’s always shaking and Burns, as writer and director, always takes the worse path. Newlyweds is a what happens, at least as far as Burns’s script, when you make bad choices. Every single time.

The film opens with titular Newlyweds Burns and Caitlin FitzGerald out to brunch with her harpy sister, Marsha Dietlein, and her sister’s miserable, sexually frustrated (all because of Dietlein) husband, Max Baker. Burns goes out of his way to make Baker as gross as possible, and Dietlein as mean possible. The audience is supposed to be annoyed with Baker’s whining, but they’re supposed to hate Dietlein. She’s such a prude she doesn’t want to listen to Burns’s comic retellings of he and FitzGerald’s problematic sex life (it’s all FitzGerald’s fault, of course).

No slut shaming though, because they’re prudes. All the slut shaming is for Kerry Bishé, who shows up immediately following the introduction, as Burns’s long lost little half sister. Burns, writing himself possibly the shallowest role in the film–he really uses those into camera interviews to sidestep narrative responsibility–and Bishé had a bad dad, which has nothing to do with the film. It’s just there for immediate sympathy (not for Bishé, because she’s always being slut shamed, but for Burns). Bishé’s exceptionally traumatic visit all gets to serve to make Burns into an even better guy. Bishé’s shit out of luck.

Along the way, Baker hooks up with a twenty-three year-old girl (Daniella Pineda), Bishé hooks up with FitzGerald’s ex-husband (Dara Coleman), and chaos ensues. But it does give Burns the chance to write FitzGerald as a harpy in training and himself as a male savior. A sensitive male savior to some degree, but not much of one.

The worst thing is how much FitzGerald and Bishé appear willing to try to make this movie work, Bishé especially. And her performance is a mess. Burns and editor Janet Gaynor cut magic with every other actor in the film–Burns berating Baker is legitimately hilarious, regardless of Burns’s irresponsibility as a writer, and the walking shots (everyone basically walks from scene to scene Newlyweds, in William Rexer’s nicely lighted Manhattan) have great cuts–but Bishé’s editing is awful. Once the script gets around to revealing all her secrets, it’s like the editing is designed to make the audience sympathize less and less.

But, to some degree, everyone’s pretty good. Dietlein has a terrible, shameful part, but she plays the hell out of it. Burns has to double down on her being awful because otherwise it means he’s got the film wrong. And he does have it wrong. FitzGerald’s good, Coleman’s kind of great, Baker’s a cartoon (as opposed to everyone else’s caricatures). Even Burns, as an actor, is really pretty good. He’s mugging a little, but the rest of his cast isn’t, which provides an interesting contrast.

He just can’t seem to figure out how to direct his script, because it’s a bad script. He can make the movie–the actors work, Rexer and Gaynor are great, P.T. Walkey’s music is solid–but he can’t direct this script. There’s no relationships. Burns intentionally starts the film with these characters having no apparent foundation.

I wish Newlyweds were more pedestrian, because then it wouldn’t be such a disappointment. Burns really should’ve worked a little bit harder on the writing, because everything else is there.

I mean, if he’d actually been able to sell Baker as a legitimate character… the sky’s the limit. Though he probably wouldn’t have been able to sell him wearing a golf cap–Burns, not Baker–the whole movie. Did Burns have a golf cap company he was promoting or something?

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns, and Rexer; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Edward Burns (Buzzy), Caitlin FitzGerald (Katie), Kerry Bishé (Linda), Marsha Dietlein (Marsha), Max Baker (Max), Dara Coleman (Dara), Daniella Pineda (Vanessa), and Johnny Solo (Miles).


No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


She’s the One (1996, Edward Burns)

She’s the One has a fantastic first act. Some of the banter doesn’t connect, but all of the performances are strong and when the banter does connect, it makes up for the rest. Director, writer, and star Burns relies a little too much on “gentle” homophobia for the banter between his character and Michael McGlone’s. They’re brothers–John Mahoney (easily giving the film’s best performance) is the dad. Mom never appears. I thought she was deceased, but no, Burns just doesn’t give her an onscreen presence, which is a big problem later on. Anyway, Burns’s reliance on the “sister” jokes for McGlone end up just being foreshadowing for the real problem with the film–Burns and McGlone are lousy leads.

But, wait, still being upbeat about the first act. Maxine Bahns is great as Burns’s new wife. They meet in his cab in the second or third scene and go off to get married. Jennifer Aniston is excellent as McGlone’s suffering wife. She gives the film’s second best performance. But she’s not just suffering because McGlone’s an alpha male jerk, but because he’s carrying on with Cameron Diaz.

Diaz, it turns out, is Burns’s ex-fiancee, who he left after she cheated on him. Eight million stories in New York City, of course it turns out everyone knows each other. Except they don’t, so Burns isn’t even trying to do an interconnected thing. Once the second act hits, Burns fully embraces the “movie about nothing.” Short scenes, usually in long shot, setting up what someone else says and then everyone else talking about it. Maybe if it were intentional, but it seems like Burns is trying to find the story. He never does. She’s the One has roughly thirty minutes of actual content. It runs over ninety minutes.

Along the way, there’s some fine acting from Mahoney and Aniston. Frank Vincent is hilarious as Aniston’s father. McGlone’s a funny jerk. The problem is he’s pretty much the lead, because Burns is exceptionally passive in his performance. He gives himself the shallowest character. Well, it’s between his character and Mahoney’s, but at least Mahoney gets an arc, at least Mahoney gets some agency.

Diaz is bad. She’s got a terrible part, which just gets worse for her along the way, but she’s not good in it. The film requires her to have exceptional chemistry with Burns. She has none. She ought to have some chemistry with McGlone too, since he wants to leave Aniston for her. But nope. Aniston and McGlone, when they’re with other people and not just in their own subplot, are great together. Bahns is best in the first act, then her part goes to crap too.

She’s the One is about Burns and McGlone having to accept some responsibility for themselves and doing whatever it takes to get out of it. Burns, as director, tries as hard as he can do get them out of it too. The women of She’s the One are all universally more interesting than the men; Burns just doesn’t want them to be. So there’s some internalized, “gentle” misogyny going on too.

The last act is a rush to save everything and, thanks to Mahoney and Bahns, Burns is almost able to pull it off. Almost.

Great songs and score from Tom Petty (though it’s usually just for Burns and Bahns, McGlone and Aniston don’t get music). Frank Prinzi’s photography is solid, even if a lot of Burns’s composition is questionable. When he finally gets around to letting characters talk and actors act–i.e. the third act–She’s the One shows some of the promise of the first act.

It’s just too little, too late.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Tom Petty; production designer, William Barclay; produced by Ted Hope, James Schamus, and Burns; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Mickey Fitzpatrick), Michael McGlone (Francis Fitzpatrick), Maxine Bahns (Hope), Jennifer Aniston (Renee), Cameron Diaz (Heather), John Mahoney (Mr. Fitzpatrick), Leslie Mann (Connie), Malachy McCourt (Tom), Amanda Peet (Molly), Anita Gillette (Carol) and Frank Vincent (Ron).


The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012, Edward Burns)

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is going to be frustrating to talk about. Burns contrives a melodrama and then proceeds to remove all the melodramatic fluff. During the scenes when–after the first act concludes–more of these melodramatic events occur, there’s a brief recognition of what he’s achieved. At some point in the second act, after three more events Burns should not be able to get away with occur, I wondered if he was just testing himself. He assembles the finest ensemble cast in years–costarring alongside them. They (and the filmmakers) bring Fitzgerald to a whole new level.

At one point, when Burns (as an actor) is listening to Heather Burns speak, I found it hard to believe was able to contain his zeal at giving her such good dialogue and directing such a good performance. There are a couple other similar scenes with Burns and his costars, but the one with Heather Burns stands out. She might give the film’s best performance. She’s certainly in the top three… or top four.

Fitzgerald concerns a large family in the two days before Christmas. I didn’t gauge the time on how Burns split the days in the run time, though they seem about equal. Burns is the oldest son–he lives with mother Anita Gillette (in one of the other top four performances), who turns seventy the day the film opens. Heather Burns is one of the daughters; in the female children category there are also Marsha Dietlein, Caitlin Fitzgerald (another top four) and Kerry Bishé. The other two male children are Michael McGlone and Tom Guiry (last top four). After the top four, in case you’re wondering, are “the next two,” being Bishé and McGlone.

And Ed Lauter is the absentee father. He’s great too. Everyone’s great. It’s just how to measure them–like I said, frustrating to talk about. It’s hard to think of an ensemble where everyone has such perfect parts. Not “good” or “great” perfect, but actual perfect–they will never be this good in anything again.

Burns himself almost steps back into his own story arc with Connie Britton. He also gives McGlone and Bishé a little story arc, which Burn then uses to imply history about the family without relying on artificial exposition. He does, of course, have exposition, but he’s able to layer it in organically.

I’ve got to get to the technical aspects–I decided on the first sentence Fitzgerald needs a double-length response. P.T. Walkley’s score, which adapts Christmas standards, helps in Burns’s draining of the melodrama. The songs imply the holiday and the confusion behind it for the characters; it’s essential.

Burns shoots Fitzgerald Panavision aspect; it’s another angering feature. Some of the shots are so good, so precise and exact in how Burns positions the characters together, they made me mad. His composition-William Rexar’s photography is key–is unbelievably meticulous as to how he presents the characters interacting with one another.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is wondrous.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexar; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by P.T. Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns and Rexar; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Kerry Bishé (Sharon), Edward Burns (Gerry), Heather Burns (Erin), Marsha Dietlein (Dottie), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Connie), Anita Gillette (Rosie), Tom Guiry (Cyril), Ed Lauter (Big Jim), Michael McGlone (Quinn), Nick Sandow (Corey), Noah Emmerich (FX), Joyce Van Patten (Mrs. McGowan), Dara Coleman (JJ) and Connie Britton (Nora).


Sidewalks of New York (2001, Edward Burns)

Sidewalks of New York is Edward Burns embracing the idea of becoming the WASP Woody Allen. Well, Burns is Irish Catholic, so not exactly the WASP Woody Allen… but something nearer to it than not. It’s his attempt at making a quintessential New York movie while being aware he’s making a quintessential New York movie.

And he partially succeeds. Even with one enormous—so enormous I’m tempted to call it ginormous (even if Oxford thinks it’s a word, I don’t)—problem, Sidewalks is a good film. It’s an extremely finished, safe film, but it’s a good one.

What’s so striking about the film is how comfortable Burns gets with his cast. It isn’t the traditional Burns cast—these aren’t Irish guys on Long Island, it’s a bunch of New Yorkers from the boroughs transplanted to Manhattan.

It’s somewhat anti-Manhattan, actually, even though every scene except one is set there.

The acting is all wonderful, particularly from Rosario Dawson (who, unfortunately, is victim of the ginormous problem), Brittany Murphy and David Krumholtz. Burns is good, but he really doesn’t give himself a big role. He usually lets Dennis Farina (who’s hilarious) overpower their scenes. Stanley Tucci is good, just giving an excellent Tucci performance. Heather Graham is sort of out of her league, sort of not. My favorite is when she can’t help laughing at Tucci.

In smaller roles, Michael Leydon Campbell, Nadja Dajani and Libby Langdon are excellent.

It’s Burns being unambitious and gloriously so—that statement’s a compliment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi ; edited by David Greenwald; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Cathy Schulman and Rick Yorn; released by Paramount Classics.

Starring Edward Burns (Tommy), Rosario Dawson (Maria), Dennis Farina (Carpo), Heather Graham (Annie), David Krumholtz (Ben), Brittany Murphy (Ashley), Stanley Tucci (Griffin), Michael Leydon Campbell (Gio / Harry), Nadia Dajani (Hilary), Callie Thorne (Sue) and Libby Langdon (Make-up Girl).


Purple Violets (2007, Edward Burns)

I’ve been avoiding seeing Purple Violets for almost four years–I thought it was going to be one of Burns’s lesser works. So, obviously, it shouldn’t be a surprise it’s his best film (it’s also his best film as a director).

I’m having some trouble trying to figure out how to start talking about it. It’s different from his usual approach to scripting, maybe because he has a clear protagonist here and it’s Selma Blair. It’s her film–even though the other three principals, Patrick Wilson, Burns and Debra Messing, get significant scenes to themselves.

For a while, there’s this juxtaposing of story lines–Blair and Messing opposite Wilson and Burns. Then the characters start crossing over and everything comes together in a completely organic way. Halfway through the film, the plot is still unpredictable. Even the last scene is, to some degree, unpredictable. It’s all incredibly delicate.

Blair’s great, which wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was Patrick Wilson. His part is a somewhat regular guy and he turns it into this constantly surprising, deep performance (Burns’s script helps). Burns gives maybe his best performance ever here. He’s kind of making fun of himself, but also not. Messing is another surprise. She takes what could be a sitcom harpy and turns it into a lovely performance.

And Donal Logue–as a Brit–is great.

The PT Walkley score and the William Rexer photography are amazing.

From the first shot–thanks to Walkley and Rexer–it’s clear Burns probably has something phenomenal here.

Then he delivers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Thom Zimny; music by PT Walkley; production designer, John Nyomarkay; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Aaron Lubin, Nicole Marra and Pamela Schein Murphy; released by iTunes.

Starring Selma Blair (Patti Petalson), Patrick Wilson (Brian Callahan), Edward Burns (Michael Murphy), Debra Messing (Kate Scott), Dennis Farina (Gilmore), Max Baker (Mark), Elizabeth Reaser (Bernie) and Donal Logue (Chazz Coleman).


Lovely Day (2001, Edward Burns)

Lovely Day is a series of clips—it opens with the American flag around Manhattan and ends with a thank you sign to the NYPD and FDNY, but otherwise, it has little to do with 9/11, at least ten years later (it was part of “The Concert for New York City” benefit concert)—set to Bill Wither’s song, “Lovely Day.”

It’s a good song, but a curious choice (Withers wasn’t a New Yorker).

By not having a narrative or a theme, it focuses attention on a couple things. First, it becomes clear the short’s seventies, home movie look is a filter, which makes one question the unfiltered video. Second, how did Burns arrange the subjects?

It’s only four minutes, which is almost too long if it’s just about people… but long enough to make one curious about Burns’s process.

It’s not high art, but it’s a nice four minutes.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Edward Burns.


Nice Guy Johnny (2010, Edward Burns)

I really wanted Nice Guy Johnny to be Ed Burns’s best film. It’s his best made film. His composition of the Hamptons landscapes are singular. The incorporation of PT Walkey’s music is sublime. Burns even uses sped up film (or video) to great effect. If Burns did shoot Johnny on digital video, he and cinematographer William Rexer deserve a standing ovation.

The film is full of these incredibly precious moments–not at all saccharine–but these earnest, precious moments. The performances Burns gets out of newcomer leads Matt Bush and Kerry Bishé are phenomenal. Bush is clearly a talented comedic actor and Burns uses that ability–usually playing Bush off himself (Burns plays Bush’s aging loathario uncle to great effect). But there’s also this intense sadness Bush brings.

Bishé is completely different–I don’t think Burns has trusted one of his actors as much as he trusts Bishé since Brothers McMullen when he didn’t really have a choice. Bush isn’t the stand in for young Burns, it’s more like Bishé is taking that role (a gender reversal of McMullen actually). The result is this serious and thoughtful young woman who is genuinely unlike anything I’m used to seeing in films today.

Nice Guy Johnny reminded me a couple times of The King of Marvin Gardens and Badlands.

Unfortunately, the film only runs ninety minutes. Burns has done great work in that running time before… but Johnny needs more time.

I really hoped Burns would make it home; he almost does.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, William Rexer; edited by Janet Gaynor; music by PT Walkley; produced by Aaron Lubin, Burns and Rexer; released by FilmBuff.

Starring Matt Bush (Johnny Rizzo), Kerry Bishé (Brooke), Anna Wood (Claire), Edward Burns (Uncle Terry), Brian Delate (Frank), Marsha Dietlein (Nicole), Michele Harris (Amy), Jay Patterson (Dr. Meadows), Vanessa Ray (Kelly), Callie Thorne (Roseanne) and Max Baker (Caretaker).


The Brothers McMullen (1995, Edward Burns)

The Brothers McMullen is filled with moments of brilliant filmmaking. More than enough. It just doesn’t finish off on one of them. The film needs to go out as strongly as it starts and it comes up short. Burns’s filmmaking is organic (undoubtedly a result of a long filming and imaginative editing) and the ending is far too perfunctory.

Some of the problem with the ending is Burns’s decision to give himself the least interesting role in the film. Even Jack Mulcahy, whose infidelity arc (the three brothers–Burns, Mulcahy and Mike McGlone each have separate crises, which–very nicely–never come together) is somewhat awkward as its mostly an internalized crisis, has more to do than Burns.

Burns’s arc (with Maxine Bahns as his love interest) is basically a romantic comedy with the slapstick removed. It’s very pretty, but it lacks a certain amount of emotional weight. Instead of turning himself into the protagonist–though he allows himself the showiest monologue–Burns gives that role to McGlone. With a nauseating amount of Irish Catholic guilt, the character shouldn’t even be sympathetic, but Burns’s script takes the character on a significant personal journey, all beautifully essayed by McGlone.

His two romantic interests–Shari Albert and Jennifer Jostyn–are both excellent. All of the performances in the film (Connie Britton probably gives the best) are good, though Burns’s direction occasionally leads to unsure moments.

The direction, while consistently excellent, falters whenever there’s a dramatic one shot.

But those quibbles are minor.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Dick Fisher; edited by Fisher; music by Seamus Egan; produced by Burns and Fisher; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Edward Burns (Barry), Mike McGlone (Patrick), Jack Mulcahy (Jack), Connie Britton (Molly), Maxine Bahns (Audry), Elizabeth P. McKay (Ann), Jennifer Jostyn (Leslie) and Shari Albert (Susan).


Scroll to Top