‘The Brothers McMullen’ (R)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 18, 1995
"The Brothers McMullen" is a hilarious look at guys in their natural state: Their thinking befuddled by testosterone and Bud, they haven't a clue when it comes to the opposite sex. Written and directed by rookie Edward Burns, this knowing, low-budget comedy will appeal to men, who'll recognize their behavior, but also to women, who'll see it as goosing the gander.
Burns, who also plays the middle brother, Barry, opens the film moments after the brothers have buried their late, unlamented father—an alcoholic who abused them and their mother. Mrs. McMullen, who has waited 35 years for this day, is about to leave for Dublin to be with her true love. She hugs Barry and leaves him with this warning: "Don't make the same mistake I did."
There's little chance of that since he and his brothers, Jack (Jack Mulcahy) and Patrick (Mike McGlone), grew up with a fear of romantic commitment matched in intensity only by the smell of their mother's corned beef and cabbage. Though grown—and in one case, married—the siblings are still unable to connect in any meaningful way with the women in their lives.
To varying degrees, they continue to suffer from dysfunctional family dynamics and the strictures of their Irish Catholic upbringing. When it comes to guilt, the McMullens can teach Woody Allen a thing or two.
Patrick, a recent college graduate and former altar boy, is having the most difficult time reconciling the demands of the church with those of his libido. He's pretty sure he's going to Hell because he's sleeping with his Jewish fiancee—which was sort of okay, except he no longer wants to marry her.
The film has a great deal of fun at Patrick's expense, but unlike most movies, it's also not afraid to touch on matters of faith and examine the consequences of flouting the Commandments. This comes into play when Jack, the oldest brother, begins to cheat on his wife, Molly (Connie Britton), after she starts pressing him about starting a family.
If this were a mainstream Hollywood take on adultery, Jack would find the family pet in a stew and his mistress dead in the bathtub. Instead, his betrayal brings him little more than remorse, shame and the fear of discovery and of losing Molly, his true love. The powwows between Jack and Patrick, his unwilling confidant, keep this plot line from becoming either sappy or preachy.
Barry, an aspiring filmmaker and lapsed Catholic, considers a second date too much of a commitment. Then he meets a gorgeous model (Maxine Bahns) while looking for an apartment in Greenwich Village, and is dismayed to find that he's fallen in love. But what if she's not his real true love? Barry talks it over with his brothers, whose frequent raunchy conversations provide the movie's best moments.
Amiably acted and leavened with caustic one-liners, "The Brothers McMullen" does suffer some from low production values and an overly sentimental ending. But it's a family movie in the truest sense of the word—Burns's dad produced, his mom catered, it was shot in their house—and it's easy to feel a part of this warm and lively household.
The Brothers McMullen is rated R for language and sensuality.
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