Friday, December 16, 2005

The Family Stone

Title: The Family Stone (2005)
Dir: Thomas Bezucha
Tagline: Feel The Love.
Rating: ** out of 5 stars

For the Diamondback (though never published)....

It’s that time of year again: the gift wrapping, the snow shoveling, and worst of all, the family squabbling. In this sense, Thomas Bezucha’s The Family Stone is a true holiday film. Unfortunately, it lacks the central ingredient of a Christmas movie: heart.

When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his high-maintenance girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for Christmas, his family has already decided they hate her. With her big-city lifestyle and a nervous throat-clearing tick, Meredith is an easy target for their ridicule. For most of the film, they aim to drive the woman away from their family.

Rachel McAdams portrays Amy, the angst-filled Stone sister determined to torment Meredith endlessly. Meanwhile, family matriarch, Sybil (Diane Keaton) refuses to give Everett her mother’s wedding ring for the purpose of proposing marriage to Meredith. Everett’s father (Craig T. Nelson) quietly disapproves of his son’s choice, but scolds the family for their rude behavior.

The situation becomes even more uncomfortable as Everett begins to doubt his love for Meredith, who now teeters on the verge of a breakdown from trying to impress the family. Consequently, she invites her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for emotional support. In a predictable turn of events, Everett and Julie grow closer, while Meredith loosens up with Everett’s laidback brother, Ben (Luke Wilson).

Nothing about The Family Stone will surprise you – it is formulaic and predictable. This flaw could be forgiven if the film offered likable characters or witty dialogue – no such luck. The Stone family comes across like a gang of vultures, making it near impossible to care about them when the movie expects you to. There is an overabundance of meaningless dialogue and Bezucha’s attempts at Hallmark moments are more awkward than touching.

The film’s biggest downfall is an excess of melodrama. Christmas is already an emotional time, but now throw in a handful of characters suddenly falling in love, an interracial gay couple yearning for a baby, and a terminally ill family member. This emotional overkill really drags the film down.

The Family Stone does provide the occasional chuckle, but most moments are painfully unfunny. The ensemble cast is talented, but unfortunately misused. Parker and Mulroney are believable in their roles; however, Keaton plays Sybil to the extreme and becomes an annoyance onscreen.

Danes and McAdams achieve their usual level of likeability here, but you would do better to go rent their other films. The standout performances of this movie come from Craig T. Nelson as the quiet, loving father, and Luke Wilson, who slips into his role better than he ever has before.

To its defense, the film presents a good Christmas-time message by showing the importance of not judging others. Although the Stone family behaves like a pack of wolves, they have their own troubles and their own reasons for ostracizing an outsider like Meredith. Similarly, she struggles to simply relax and trust herself.

Unfortunately, a good message and a talented cast cannot keep The Family Stone from falling short of a good holiday movie. In the end, too much drama and not enough spirit leave you out in the cold.