The Family Stone

Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is a very traditional kind of guy in this romantic dramady directed by Thomas Bezucha. What’s not to like when he decides to bring his fiancee Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), a New Yorker who is all jagged, awkward edges, home to meet his parents for Christmas? The Stones, one big happy bohemian college-town family, seem to welcome diversity of every kind, yet Meredith seems incapable of putting a single foot right with them. Things deteriorate quickly, as the Stones (incomprehensibly) start to gang up on and sabotage poor little Meredith. When Meredith calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for moral support, the tables begin to turn. In true Hollywood family-fare fashion, there is never any doubt that there will be a "right-sized" someone for everyone and a happy end for all.

The quirky but lovable family is beset by almost as many problems as the equally quirky, but far less lovable film. Most of the acting is easy cliches. Mother Sybil (Diane Keaton) and father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) are affable, affectionate, "liberal" parents. One or both of them is probably a college professor (the film does not explain), they live in a huge country house which seems to be located on the edge of a New England college campus. It snows all the time and every establishing shot is very generically picture-postcard perfect. Their house seems furnished from a nostalgic Americana catalog.

Unfortunately, these characters seem to come from the same catalog. While the performances overall are subdued, this does not prevent the film from drowning in a Dickensian (as in A Christmas Carol) sentimentality of the season. The opening scenes establish how loving and accepting mom and dad are of their deaf son (Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his African-American boyfriend Patrick (Brian J. White) — and, heart-warmingly enough, everyone in the family signs fluently. And yet, the entire family seems oblivious to how savagely they exclude Meredith. But not to worry, for of course the plot comes front-loaded with weepy, cliched explanations to justify this and everything else.

The film sets up couplings of opposites. Meredith’s rigidity is a cover for her insecurities, which seem to arise from hiding her true, "wild woman" nature. Dermot Mulroney’s character Everett, with his Sly Stallone curling lip and straight-laced efforts to always please, is just implausible as a member of the Stone family. The gay son Thad has gone out into the larger world (where he plans to adopt a child with his partner Patrick), while local-girl sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) resists the local paramedic Brad Stevenson (Paul Schneider). Comic relief, and the most touching performance, is provided by Luke Wilson as brother Ben, a big dopey, pot-smoking puppy of a guy (and the only character who might actually have been raised in this family). The romantic realignments, which come later in the film, become transparent almost immediately. It is of course Ben, not Everett, who revealingly says to Meredith, "You have the freak flag… you just don’t fly it."

The Family Stone is a somewhat sloppy, good-hearted Christmas holiday card. Too predictable for a first viewing, it could nonetheless become yet another weepy perennial.

Les Wright

The Family Stone