The Family Stone
Holiday family gatherings,
no matter how close the family, are never nearly as fun as we would like to
imagine. However, if it is tough for the clan, it is torture for
outsiders who wander in. The rest of the people in the room have their
own shorthand, their own histories, their own catchphrases and simmering
For someone coming in brand
new to the dynamic – all the time is spent playing catch-up. This
dynamic was explored wonderfully this summer with the overlooked Junebug.
That indie was small in scope but big on ideas.
The Hollywood version of the
story has now arrived. The Family Stone has an exceptionally
strong cast, a good script and a pure heart. If it is not exactly as
hefty (or as good) as Junebug, that is an excusable offense. It
is a film that works well enough on its own merits.
It tells the story of the
Stones – an extended New England family that has become the annual site of
the family get together for the holidays. The patriarch is Kelly
(Craig T. Nelson), a college professor. His wife Sybil (Diane Keaton)
is a doting but with-it mom. The kids are businessman Everett (Dermot
Mulroney), college student Amy (Rachel McAdams), lovable black sheep Ben
(Luke Wilson), immensely pregnant housewife Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and
Thad (Tyrone Giordano), who hits the politically correct trifecta of being
deaf, gay and happily partnered with an African-American.
The Stones appear to be a
well-balanced family, smart, well-off, educated, liberal and loving.
The problem arises when Everett decides to bring his new fiancé Meredith
(Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet his family. To say that things get off
to a rocky start is putting it mildly, the all-business Meredith meshes with
her future in-laws like oil and water. And somewhat understandably so
– Meredith is a horror; uptight, priggish, opinionated, and just vaguely
bigoted and homophobic. Any time or way that she tries to fit in just
falls horribly flat.
For moral support, Meredith
calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to join her. The fact that
the tribe loves Julie just makes things worse for Meredith. Suddenly
Everett starts to wonder if maybe he has fallen for the wrong sister.
And Julie, while trying to be loyal to her older sister, reciprocates the
In the meantime, brother Ben
decides to make a project of Meredith. "You've got a freak flag," he
tells her, "you just don't fly it." Ben and Meredith become friends,
and realize that there is an underlying attraction that they try, but not
too hard, to fight off. All of this sibling shuffling would appear to
be much more difficult than the movie makes it out to be.
Towards the end of the film,
it seems like writer/director Thomas Bezukha loses track of the plot. There
are some really unnecessarily slapstick scenes (specifically one with
several of the Stone family members floundering about on the kitchen floor
drenched in spilled food). On the exact opposite scale of the
spectrum, a major character's illness – which had been hinted at earlier in
the film, but still seems like a bit of a manipulation – ramps up the
pathos. Also, a relationship between the youngest Stone girl and a
local firefighter seems rushed, there is too little transition between her
finding him to be annoying to getting to the point where in a prologue which
takes place a year later she is ready to marry the guy.
However, The Family Stone
has a lot of heart, a lot of humor and a lot of ideas. If it can't
quite rein it all in at the end – well, there are a lot worse problems for
a movie to have.
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Posted: December 23, 2005.