The Family Stone (2005)

reviewed by
Sam Osborn


The Family Stone
reviewed by Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com
rating: 3 out of 4

Director: Thomas Bezucha Cast: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Tyron Giordano, Elizabeth Reaser Screenplay: Thomas Bezucha MPAA Classification: PG-13 (some sexual content including dialogue, and some drug references)

With Christmas comes Christmas movies; and, for the most part, these annual outings are typical holiday duds. So imagine my surprise with The Family Stone. It's a Christmas film with scope beyond raucous family gags. It bothers itself with honest and sobering realities of family, deciding not to solely rely on tickling our funny bones, but delving into why Christmas is, at its heart, about coming together.

That's not to say The Family Stone is devoid of on-rails formula. The most obvious of these formula traits is the film's premise. Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his new girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), to meet his family for the holidays. Of course, we all know what's gonna happen: mass hysteria between family and newcomer, mounting to climactic relationship issues, and a resolution spent around the Christmas tree with long-lasting family ties. It's a well-trodden formula; but as with any formula, the heart must lie in its characters. Writer/Director Thomas Bezucha understands this, and has written his characters to work as a dimensional family. The Stone family is deliciously convincing. But they aren't written as another kooky family for our "normal" protagonist to get tangled up with. In all reality, with The Family Stone, Meredith is the kooky character. She's justifiably strange. But this dynamic of realistic family life is truly what gives The Family Stone its heart. We can see the deep, turning cogs of the Stone family and let ourselves fall into their warm, infectious banter.

It doesn't hurt that Bezucha assembled a forceful cast for The Family Stone. With Claire Danes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, and Luck Wilson, Bezucha's only worry should have been giving each of these actors their chance to shine. Luckily, his script allows for development with each player, again allowing his film to take a deeper look into family inner-workings. But this also makes it hard to single out any of the supporting performances. They're actually all quite impressive. Keaton again improves upon her comeback, following up 2003's hit Something's Gotta Give. Nelson reprises his endearing father role from The Incredibles, this time donning the peaceful professor persona instead of spandex superhero fittings. Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Claire Danes all pull in equal amounts of holiday cheer as well. The stand-out, however, is Sarah Jessica Parker. Most T.V. superstars stumble when breaking into film because they're cast as essentially the same character they played in their previous T.V. spot. Jennifer Aniston has repeatedly run into this dilemma, reprising the tired, easy smile of Rachel from "Friends". But Parker's Meredith Morton is certainly different from her Carrie Bradshaw of "Sex and the City". Meredith is uptight, business-oriented, and completely unprepared for the frantically mellow atmosphere of Everett's large family. Her contradictions to his world are palpable. When I read through the Golden Globe nominations, I was at first shocked by her inclusion in the Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy noms; but after seeing her Meredith Morton, I realize the Hollywood Foreign Press was completely justified in their decision.

The Family Stone is a stand-out addition to the ever-lengthening list of Christmas films. Its script is smart enough to allow the pace to slow, and take a break to indulge with family realities. Without giving away too much, The Family Stone knows that giggles and blushes aren't the only emotions of the holidays. It knows mortality and pain, and deals with them humbly, not wishing to flaunt them with melodrama. And although the family's romances often lend themselves to idealisms and sentimentality, the characters have heart enough for us to mostly look past these and truly enjoy the family.

- reviewed by Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com

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