Hippo Manchester
December 22, 2005

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FILM: The Family Stone (PG-13)  C

by Amy Diaz

It’s not really Christmas until you get a heart-warming tale of family coming together, so break out the fruitcake and the eggnog because here is your slice of The Family Stone, a brittle little candy cane about the quirks and bonds of family.

You know, there is a moment early in this film when Amy, the surly daughter played by Rachel McAdams, arrives at her family’s home with some boxes, an NPR tote bag and a basket of laundry. She struggles to get out of her beat-up station wagon and ends up dropping most of her stuff in the snow. She scowls so hard it’s almost audible and starts kicking everything into the basket. Standard slapstick but something about the execution of this scene gave me hope for this movie.

Of course, as the holidays themselves prove every year, optimism is for suckers.

Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney — seriously, what is the attraction?) is bringing home his uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet his family and spend Christmas with them. Why anyone would do such a horrific thing without the legal requirement that is marriage is both a mystery to me and a clue as to why Everett has decided to undertake this fool’s errand. Meredith, also hoping that Everett’s The One, is job-interview nervous because she’s convinced his family hates her. This isn’t entirely false — Amy, Everett’s youngest sister, hates Meredith. The rest of the family is merely fond of making sport of new people and seems ready for a rip-roaring good time of mockery.

Dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) and Mom Sybil (Diane Keaton) more or less encourage their brood in this. There are good Stones, of course. Deaf, gay son Thad (Ty Giordano) and his partner Patrick (Brian White) are the model of couplehood. Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) is mother of one, about to pop her second and surrounded with the warm glow that movies like this give mothers of young children. And then there’s Ben (Luke Wilson) — sure he seems on the side of the slacker misfits but he’s actually the only Stone who attempts to smooth Meredith’s integration into the family.

Not that she’s terribly helpful to her own cause. Refusing to sleep with Everett in his parents’ house, Meredith takes Amy’s room. Then, after a few more offenses to Meredith’s delicate sensibilities, she decides to stay at the local inn and calls on her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come down and act as backup. Julie comes and is, of course, instantly loved by the Stones whereas Meredith can barely get a kind word out of them. Perhaps this is the reason Meredith chooses the next dinner to make derogatory comments about gays, the deaf and African-Americans.

Cue the wacky Nutcracker music!

That one initial scene of over-educated, under-achieving slacker pissiness aside, The Family Stone absolutely reeks of comedy gone sour. We are supposed to see a family that snipes but ultimately comes together and is wacky and loving. Instead, I see stock characters and cliché situations, right down to the damn “Waltz of the Flowers” that is used every time a movie needs wacky holiday scoring. Meredith pulls her hair back in a tight bun at the beginning of the movie, thus making it easier for us all to see her moment of character transformation — hair goes down when defenses do. This movie bills itself, through its tone, as a smart family dramady but shows itself through action to be the same brainless holiday pap.