The Family Stone (PG-13)
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.
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.
course, as the holidays themselves prove every year, optimism is for
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.
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
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.
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.