The Family Stone (2005) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, and drug references
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes, Tyrone Giordano, Brian White, Elizabeth Reaser, Paul Schneider, Savannah Stehlin
Director: Thomas Bezucha

Screenplay: Thomas Bezucha
Review published January 5, 2007

It's Christmas in Connecticut, when the tight-knit Stone family get together for their annual holiday gathering.  This year, it's a bit different, as the eldest of the Stone children, Everett (Mulroney, Must Love Dogs), is bringing Meredith (Parker, State and Main), a woman he intends to marry, hoping to use his grandmother's engagement ring to make the proposal.  Unfortunately for Everett, the rest of the Stone family thinks he is making a mistake by bringing what they perceive to be a shrewish control-freak into the family unit, and try as they might to be civil about it, their disdain for Meredith keeps coming out.   

While The Family Stone does possess a nice cast of actors who engage with lively performances, it is mired by predictability, emotional manipulations, and by giving us characters that come off as very unlikable.  It's not that we are really supposed to like the Stone family per se, but in this case, their outward refusal to accept Everett's choice of Meredith without getting to know her puts them in such a bad light that it does diminish the enjoyment of the overall comedy.  True, some families are like that, but in this case, their justification for their ill feelings seems unfounded, and even when Meredith does begin to show some reasons why the family should be cautious about her, the sourness of it all bogs the film down into less-than-funny, less-than-poignant territory. 

What the Stone's really need to realize is that no outsider should ever be so unlucky as to need their acceptance, as we wish for Meredith to run for the hills rather than try to join a group of obvious jerks.  Funny thing is, the Stone's don't seem to be comfortable with anyone if they don't accept their flaws.  It is OK for another man to join the family, because he is willing to accept their deaf, gay son (Giordano, A Lot Like Love).  It is not OK for Meredith to join them on equal terms, however -- they won't accept her if she marries someone she is suited for, like Everett, but they will accept her if she settles for their wayward slacker son, Ben (Wilson, Legally Blonde 2).  Conversely, they would accept Meredith's younger sister, Julie (Danes, Shopgirl) into their family, because she could clearly do much better than Everett.  It seems that as long as you acknowledge that you are settling for less, you are welcome into the Stone family with open arms.

For all of its distasteful qualities, The Family Stone does benefit from well-rounded characterizations, and with the actors they have in place, it certainly had the goods necessary to being a much more worthwhile film than it ends up being.  What really is the film's downfall, other than the aforementioned mean-spiritedness, is how the story becomes contrived and predictable once the character of Meredith's much more likable younger sister, Julie, enters the scene.  Just as the family as a whole were disgusted by Everett's choice of potential spouse without any rationale, they just as certainly feel kinship with Julie, even trying to get her to go for one of their other single sons, without even getting to know her.  Anyone who doesn't see the plot machinations already in motion from here on out is probably asleep from the story's considerable tedium.

The Family Stone is passable fare for people who like family dramedies, the kinds that are usually the norm as made-for-TV fodder around the holiday times.  I suppose that when things all come together in the end that we are supposed to realize that the family bonds far exceed their differences, and this is supposed to make us feel good about our own family situations, where we all love our kin despite their flaws.  In this case, we only resolve that this barely-functional family just gets even more dysfunctional as the years progress, and the only  redeeming quality of this family is their fantastic ability to scare off any who would dare to want to join their group of ingrates -- including us as viewers.  Unfortunately, in the end, they prove unsuccessful at that as well.

Qwipster's rating

©2007 Vince Leo