The only good, solid movie to open this weekend is a holiday-themed piece shot through with humor and heartbreak. No bull. And low on sappy. Props to Edward Burns, the writer, director and star, who goes back to this Irish-Catholic roots and the 1995 debut film that put him on the map, The Brothers McMullen. Often called the Irish Woody Allen, Burns knows his way around the business of family. Burns plays Gerry Fitzgerald, the eldest of seven children parented by Josie (a superb Anita Gillette), a single mom since her husband, Big Jim (Ed Lauter), walked out on them 20 years ago. Now Big Jim has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He wants to come home for Christmas. Josie wants no part of the rat bastard. His adult children are divided on the issue. That's the movie. It sounds like a Hallmark card, but Burns and a bracingly fine cast play it for real. Lots of grit and comic grace notes. Burns introduces so many characters at once that the movie begins to feel like a Tolstoy novel. But we know them soon enough, without a scorecard. Gerry is the family caretaker, the responsible one. Brother Quinn (Michael McGlone) wants to propose to younger girlfriend (Daniella Pineda). Sister Sharon (Kerry Bishe) hooks up with a father-figure (Noah Emmerich). Sister Dottie (Marsha Dietlein Bennett) dumps her husband for a hottie gardener. Sister Connie (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is pregnant by an abusive boyfriend. The youngest brother Cyril (Tom Guiry) is just out of rehab. Sister Erin (Heather Burns), allegedly the normal one, has married up and looks down on her family, except for daddy. Emotions run high. But Burns never plays it cheap and cheesy. And he wisely brings in his Brothers McMullen costar Connie Britton, the sorceress of Friday Night Lights and Nashville, as a new romance for Gerry. Their scenes together have a romantic vibrancy that is irresistible. As an actor, Burns has worked the Hollywood game from Saving Private Ryan to Alex Cross. But his core passion is for making indie movies without studio interference, guerilla style. Because hetakes his films personally, so do we. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is one of his best.