Director Ed Burns' first picture impressed audiences at Sundance, and rightly so. Where the festival seems to have been dry in recent years, films like "McMullen" were the jewels that came out of it a few years back. Religion, romance and that c-word (commitment) are the main elements of the story. The three brothers of the title are Patrick(Mike McGlone), Jack(Jack Mulcahy) and Barry(writer/director/actor Burns).
The story takes turns focusing on one brother or another, and then brings them all back together to speak their thoughts. Barry runs from commitment, and has just broken up with another girl as the film opens. Soon though, he keeps crossing paths with Audry(Maxine Bahns) who will begin to shake his feelings about relationships. Patrick uses religion to get out of taking the next step with his current girlfriend, and begins to re-evaluate his stance on the whole subject. The oldest brother, Jack, is married to Molly("Spin City"'s Connie Britton), but finds himself in the midst of an affair.
"McMullen" succeeds because of a few things. The writing and acting are natural and feel honest and real. Burns is an entertaining, smart actor as we've seen recently in films like "Saving Private Ryan". The other two brothers are also very good. Britton is particularly wonderful in the role of Molly, who plays the comedy well, and has some great dramatic moments. Some people have thought Bahns (who was the real-life girlfriend of Burns at the time) was not a particularly good actress, but I have thought her performances in both this and "She's The One" were fine.
Working without permits but with a good cast and screenplay, "McMullen" still stands out as a well-written, well-acted romantic comedy/drama.
VIDEO: The anamorphic presentation in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio has some minor problems, but it's definitely an improvement over the previous home video editions of the film. With the film's low-budget origins, don't always expect the smoothest images, but they often look quite good with Fox's work here.
Sharpness is very good, with only a few exceptions were the picture looks slightly soft. Detail is good, and clarity is never lacking. Some of the exterior shots on the New York City streets look especially well-rendered here.
Problems are pretty minor; they consist of some usually light to mild grain, but this isn't a major distraction, and mainly seems to be in the more dimly-lit scenes in the film. The print used does have some flaws that include some slight marks and scratches, but the amount is minor conisdering the film's age.
Colors are not particularly bold or vibrant, but they look natural here, without any noticable flaws. Although there are some bumps along the way, this is the best that "McMullen" has looked. Also, in what I believe is a first for Fox, a full-frame version is included on the flip-side.
SOUND: Offered on this DVD is a newly created stereo soundtrack (previous editions of the film were mono). The film is almost completely dialogue-driven, with the occasional music. The new soundtrack brings out the music a bit fuller, but that's about the only difference. Dialogue is nicely recorded, and is easily heard.
MENUS:: The film's main menu offers a non-animated shot of the cover art, but a box on the side shows scenes from the film. Sub-menus aren't animated, but do have music from the film in the background.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ed Burns, and it's a great discussion of what it's like to work on such a low-budget production.I especially enjoyed what Burns talks about early on in the discussion, where he talks about not worrying about the details (make-up,etc) in a production like this if you have a good story and characters.
The rest of the commentary is a tour through what it was like to shoot the film, discussing working with the actors, trying to get scenes without permits, and other obstacles (such as using used film) that had to be overcome during the no-budget production. Although some of the discussion is a bit general about the acting, those who are student filmmakers should definitely take a listen to this commentary; Burns discusses quite a few tips on how not to let a complete lack of budget get in the way of getting your film done.
The commentary has only a few minor pauses, and is certainly one of the best commentaries that I've heard lately. Definitely worth a listen.
Also: Theatrical trailer, web-link.
Final Thoughts: "Brothers McMullen" is a definite recommendation. The film is great, and Fox has put together a very nice DVD edition.