The Family Stone (2005)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Stone’s are the kind of neighbors that everyone gets along with. Sure, they’re a little quirky, but they are the most interesting family on the block – and some of the most free-spirited individuals you’ll ever meet!

Favorite and most successful son, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is heading home for Christmas and has his family in a flurry of anticipation at his arrival. Accompanying him is his uptight businesswoman girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). The plan is to propose to Meredith during the annual holiday gathering of the Stone’s. Being back home with his siblings and parents (Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson) puts Everett on edge – especially when his family begins taking their dislike of Meredith to a whole new level. His go-with-the-flow sisters Amy (Rachel McAdams) and Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) instantly clash with Meredith’s more rigid personality – most especially Amy who is the only one to have previously met Meredith; she just CANNOT stand the woman. This makes everyone a little blind to what Everett sees in Meredith. His brother Ben (Luke Wilson) however thinks Meredith is the greatest girl his brother has brought home yet.

Overwhelmed by this wacky and large family – and their intense hatred of her, Meredith begs her little sister to come for the duration of her stay with the Stone’s. Julie (Claire Danes) appears on the scene just in time to save Meredith’s sanity… or that is her expectation. Instead, Julie’s arrival changes the dynamics in the household… and shifts emotions. 

I cannot believe that I am actually going to say this, but… I really, really liked this movie. The fact that it tries to impress upon us “acceptable” Hollywood and cultural practices is annoying but much to my astonishment, the movie actually has a lot of heart despite all of the “other” unpleasantness. There are the ever-typical “issues” in the family that are played up for laughs but what shines through the best is that they do like each other; they are a close-knit group. Sure as we watch this, we experience the usual-everyday-sibling-squabbles, but it matters not in the larger scheme. The ending to this movie is somewhat unusual (very reflective and unexciting) but its quiet poignancy shows just how close their family is – and more importantly that they are going to be just fine in the coming years, in spite of their sorrow.

Luckily this film is easily comedic with an instance or two of slapstick and even some physical comedy – it had me laughing throughout the entire run time. To have such an easy-going balance of heartwarming traditions and still pull off being hilarious is quite an entertaining evening. The Stone’s are messed up – really messed up, but yet they continuously pass judgment on Meredith, implying they aren’t the people Everett knew them to be. Throughout the story various misunderstandings and/or mean-spirited tricks eventually begin to circle around the bigger picture and impact of the script. Even after Everett asks it of his family and the patriarch demands it, the family still mistreats Meredith – and really, she was being very nice. In a normally “Hollywood” perfect scenario, once again it is refreshing to come across characters who are imperfect; this family seems to have that down to a science. Amy is terrible, Ben is kind of the lovable loser and Sybil refuses to give her son the family diamond because she doesn’t want it on “that woman’s” finger. It is too bad the movie didn’t use a bit more discretion because much like The Holiday or The Back-Up Plan, there is something underneath all the over-bearing Hollywood say-so. 

This is just fair warning for you all: I figured I might as well just get started early on posting holiday-related stuff. The Family Stone is a movie set against a Christmas backdrop, and I have been already eagerly noting all the upcoming Christmas movies. This one not only has some really great story-telling capabilities (the script really does engage us) and fabulous acting (most of the characters are easy to like), but also some wonderfully catchy tunes. The Family Stone isn’t the most wholesome feature film, but there is something about it that strikes a chord in us. And that counts for something.

(Cautions: homosexuality is very prevalent. It comes up in conversations [one brother has a “partner”] and nearer the end, a same-sex couple adopt. There are various crude references, including one about Amy losing her virginity, and everyone has a casual attitude about sex. Profanity includes sh*t, da*n, etc. Additionally there are a couple of references to drugs and Ben takes Meredith out for a night of drinking. The camera briefly shows a mastectomy surgical scar. The movie is rated PG13.)

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