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Roughly Made, ‘Brothers Mcmullen’ Has Strong Characters

When a film forsakes the slickness of big-studio production, it faces a weighty problem: how to please the critics, keep true to a presumed artistic vision and attract an audience.

“The Brothers McMullen,” written and directed by Edward Burns (who also plays one of the film’s three main roles), has very nearly cleared all three obstacles.

Shot on a shoestring budget (reportedly $18,000) over a two-year period, the film is Burns’ vision from start to finish. It has received mixed-to-good reviews from all parts of the country (even the fussy New York Times praises Burns’ “solid grasp of story and character”).

And as far as attracting an audience, well, “The Brothers McMullen” already has been a hit on the film-festival circuit, winning the top award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

So there is much to like about Burns and his entry-level movie, which explores the lives and loves of three Irish-American brothers better than any dozen studio features. At the same time, let’s not get carried away: It is a first film, it is not smoothly framed or edited, and its narrative qualities are herky-jerky to say the least.

The film’s strength is its characterizations: Jack (Jack Mulcahy) is the solid older brother, a coach married to the best woman his young brothers have ever known (save mom); Barry (Burns) is the artistic middle brother, handsome and ambitious as a filmmaker wannabe and afflicted with that most ‘90s of phenomena - male commitment-phobia; baby brother Patrick (Mike McGlone) is having his own problems, which entail his lifelong love affair with Catholicism and doubts about love and marriage.

“The Brothers McMullen” begins at the funeral of the brothers’ father, an alcoholic abuser hated by all three, during which their mother says goodbye: She befuddles her boys by heading for Ireland to be with the man she has loved all her life.

That sets the tone. Jack starts getting itchy in his marriage, Barry meets the perfect woman just as his career starts to take off and Patrick… well, Patrick can’t decide whether to marry his girlfriend or take off for California with a girl he knew in high school.

Burns does handle the interplay between his characters with skill, leaving each to become more than a fictional creation. Despite the wisecracks, these guys feel real.

And he refrains from tacking on blatantly manipulative happy endings to each brother’s individual saga, convincing us instead that no matter what happens all will come out for the best.

It almost makes up for all that is so amateurish about the project, from the cinematography (video converted to film that looks as if it were shot through cheesecloth) to the editing (as choppy as a sushi chef).

Overall, “The Brothers McMullen” is a pleasant, occasionally wonderful little look at the angst of modern living. Just remember: The accent is on little.

, DataTimes MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. OTHER VIEWS Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: The film’s real triumph is its modesty. Unlike earlier Sundance winners, it’s a conventional, reassuring tale that fails to showcase any awesome insights or scintillating new talent. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Allowing extravagantly for the post-production funds (several hundred thousand dollars) that brought “The Brothers McMullen” up to commercial speed, you could make 350 films like this for the one “Waterworld.” And audiences would have a better time.

2 “The Brothers McMullen” ** 1/2 Location: Lyons Ave. Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Edward Burns, starring Edward Burns, Mike McGlone, Jack Mulcahy, Connie Britton and Maxine Bahns Running time: 1:37 Rating: R

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. OTHER VIEWS Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: The film’s real triumph is its modesty. Unlike earlier Sundance winners, it’s a conventional, reassuring tale that fails to showcase any awesome insights or scintillating new talent. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Allowing extravagantly for the post-production funds (several hundred thousand dollars) that brought “The Brothers McMullen” up to commercial speed, you could make 350 films like this for the one “Waterworld.” And audiences would have a better time.

2 “The Brothers McMullen” ** 1/2 Location: Lyons Ave. Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Edward Burns, starring Edward Burns, Mike McGlone, Jack Mulcahy, Connie Britton and Maxine Bahns Running time: 1:37 Rating: R

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