The Brothers McMullen

Director: Edward Burns
Screenwriters: Edward Burns

Institute History


The Brothers McMullen focuses on an Irish Catholic family where the father has just died. At his funeral the mother admits to harboring a yen for a long-lost love in Ireland and departs. Because she has stayed in a loveless marriage, her parting words are to avoid the mistakes in life that she has made. Her grown sons, Jack, Barry, and Patrick, face the same issues and questions that life poses for everyone—relationships, careers, and opportunities—but they must do so with the exceptional added burden of their Catholic upbringing.

Thus the stage is set for director Edward Burns’s very compelling The Brothers McMullen and its melodramatic examination of three Irish New Yorkers. Interweaving their lives, the film really commences when the three end up living together once again in their family home, which Jack, married to his high school sweetheart and somewhat settled in his career as a teacher, has purchased from their mother. Patrick, the youngest, has recently graduated from college, but is seeking refuge from a relationship that he’s wary of, and unwilling to live in sin, he convinces his older brother to allow him to move in temporarily. Barry, a struggling filmmaker, after refusing to marry the girlfriend he's been living with, also finds he needs alternate living quarters. Jack’s sheltered existence is about to undergo a real upheaval as his wife pressures him to have children, and he embarks on what he assumes is a very casual affair. Patrick, meanwhile, must face the demands of his Jewish girlfriend, who has his future mapped out for him, and Barry becomes involved with an aspiring actress he meets while apartment hunting.

The multilayered story is both inventive and accomplished, particularly in light of the poverty-level budget that the filmmakers had available. Using familiar themes and problems but a very fresh and natural approach, The Brothers McMullen gives us a uniquely different look at romance, love, and commitments.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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