I've always been a bit hard on Edward Burns, but only because I think he has potential as a filmmaker. In my opinion, there's no one else out there right now who knows how to capture New York the way Eddie does. The man lives for this city; it is, and will always be, his muse. However, because he always insists upon wearing so many different hats (writer, director, star and sometimes producer) during each of his films, something always suffers. And as I've approached each one, I sort of go in wondering what Eddie will screw up this time. Will it be a poorly-written script? Wooden acting? Bad direction? All of the above? That being said, I'm happy to report that Purple Violets is his best film since The Brothers McMullen (the 1995 Sundance hit that helped launch Eddie's career behind the camera). It's genuine, it's from the heart and -- I can't believe I'm saying this about an Edward Burns film -- it includes terrific performances from well-written female characters.
When I told a friend of mine that I was going to see the new Eddie Burns film Purple Violets, they were immediately turned off -- as if a bad odor had just entered the room. "You mean, Eddie directed a film called Purple Violets? I don't get it, did he have a sex change operation? Is he now a woman? What's up with that girly title?" For those that love Eddie for his take on masculine Irish-American life in the blue-collar suburbs of New York, Purple Violets might not go down as smoothly as that pint of Coors Light. Yet, the beauty of this film lies in its title. Purple and violet are often confused as being the same color, but they're not. It's almost like meeting someone with whom you were friends with 12 years ago, and trying to re-establish the same type of relationship you had with them back then. However, they've changed, you've changed and while on the surface you both kind of look the same, inside you're both very different people. Thus is the premise for Purple Violets: Four old friends reunite after 12 years apart, while attempting to heal old wounds and ignite new memories.
Though that Irish-American edge is non-existent in this film, Eddie doesn't exactly abandon his roots. The two male leads, Brian Callahan (Patrick Wilson) and Michael Murphy (Burns), keep Burns' Irish theme going, but they're far from the group of gritty, tough "lost boys" from his previous film, The Groomsmen. Old college buddies, Brian and Michael have since found tons of success in their respective careers. Brian is a popular author whose series of detective novels has earned him a modest living and a large fanbase. On the other hand, Michael (or Murph) has managed to ditch his party animal, womanizing ways for a respectable (and high-paying) gig as an attorney. But just when they thought their past was behind them, the boys run into their two old girlfriends, Patti (Selma Blair) and Kate (Debra Messing); two women they haven't seen in 12 years.
Since both relationships ended on very bad terms (Brian ditched Patti and Murph cheated on Kate), this initial meeting is a bit tense. But it isn't until after the fact that all four find themselves clinging on to unfinished business. Patti has since married an obnoxious, self-absorbed British chef, but her feelings for Brian haven't gone away. Meanwhile, Murph spends the entire film trying to apologize to Kate for the stupid, non-sensical actions that lead to the demise of their previous relationship. The great thing about Burns' script is that the women obviously have the upper hand; both utilizing different ways of either repressing or re-igniting those old sparks. Patty (an aspiring author herself) uses her new-found relationship with Brian to re-discover her own hopes and dreams. Whereas Kate wants nothing to do with Murph until she realizes that everyone deserves a second chance.
Like with all of Burns' movies, there's another main character that you can't help but fall in love with right from the opening shot (which, in this case, is a foreshadowing image of waves crashing on the shore along a beach in Southampton); that being the city of New York. Since he's working with themes of growth and change, Eddie chose to set Purple Violets during the city's most picturesque season: autumn. Like the season, the film reveals the different colors of a relationship -- and how even though a lot of time has gone by, emotions are still fresh. But it's what you choose to do with those emotions that can help define your future moving forward. Purple Violets is a more mature film than anything Burns has done in the past. It shows he's grown up, and perhaps his marriage and two children had a lot to do with his perception of beauty, honesty and the role a woman plays in shaping a man. And like its title, Purple Violets might look a lot like Eddie's previous films. But once you break through the surface, it reveals something very different.