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FAMILY STONE, THE (director/writer: Thomas Bezucha; cinematographer: Jonathan Brown; editor: Jeffrey Ford; music: Michael Giacchino; cast: Dermot Mulroney (Everett Stone), Sarah Jessica Parker (Meredith Morton), Diane Keaton (Sybil Stone), Rachel McAdams (Amy Stone), Luke Wilson (Ben Stone), Craig T. Nelson (Kelly Stone), Claire Danes (Julie Morton), Tyrone Giordano (Thad Stone), Brian White (Patrick Thomas), Elizabeth Reaser (Susannah Stone Trousdale), Savannah Stehlin (Elizabeth Trousdale), Jamie Kaler (John Trousdale), Paul Schneider (Brad Stevenson); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Michael London; 20th Century Fox; 2005)
“One of those cloying familiar whacky holiday formulaic sitcom drama/comedies that is what it is.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of those cloying familiar whacky holiday formulaic sitcom drama/comedies that is what it is: a contrived narrative that is populated with so-called colorful characters who have no depth and offers a heavy-handed message of accepting others even if they are different from us. Writer-director Thomas Bezucha (“Big Eden”) sets his crowd-pleasing and supposedly warm-hearted Christmas family-reunion tale in a wonderful New England white house surrounded by snow, where amiable well-heeled patriarch Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson) and playful liberal matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) joyfully greet their children arriving for the holidays even though mom has kept secret from them her illness.

Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the uppity, prim, and uptight girlfriend of the Stone’s successful businessman and handsome and dependable oldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney). Mr. Perfect brings her during the holidays to meet the irreverent family for the first time and the free-thinking slightly eccentric family take an instant dislike to the stiff Meredith and treat her coldly and leave her feeling humiliated (which isn’t too cool if tolerance is supposed to be your playing card!). Everett’s bitchy college-aged single sister, Amy (Rachel McAdams), treats her the worst and makes no bones about not liking anything about big brother’s squeeze, from the way she wears her hair pulled-back to her nervous habit of clearing her throat. Mom follows suit and in an anal-obsessive manner refuses to give Everett her mother’s wedding ring to present to Meredith as a marriage proposal. Dad tries to be reasonable and accepting of his son’s choice (but you know the rules for how dads in sitcoms are treated!), while younger and somewhat dopey but socially perceptive slacker brother Ben (Luke Wilson), around for comic relief, finds Meredith very appealing and goes to great trouble to pursue her affections–working ‘the we’re both outsiders angle’ to perfection. Adopted son Thad (Tyrone Giordano) is deaf and gay. He arrives with his African-American marriage partner, the genial Patrick Thomas (Brian White), who is warmly received by the family. The ideal couple have adopted a young black son. Also arriving are Meredith’s older pregnant sister Susannah and her precocious young daughter Elizabeth; hubby John is working and is expected to arrive on Christmas Day, and the drama here is if he’ll make it on time. Amy’s old flame Brad (Paul Schneider), an ambulance driver, surprisingly shows up, and with a little love Amy turns more human friendly.

With Meredith’s one-dimensional character set as the foil for the ensuing comedy and dramatic antics, a series of staged mean-spirited confrontations over her unwanted presence begins. Feeling out of place with the Stones, especially after her move to not sleep in the same room as Everett causes an unhappy Amy to give up her room and sleep on the living room sofa. This prompts Meredith to call her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to keep her company for emotional support and the two take a room at the local inn.

It was hard to like any of these characters and it was even harder to watch them begin to come together again as a family and learn to be more tolerant and less judgmental. Everything seemed phony and covered with goo, from their initial confrontations to their uplifting reconciliations. The biggest twist comes when Everett falls for sweet pretty blonde Julie and Meredith finds it easier to be with pothead Ben, even innocently sleeping in his room but feeling ashamed after being discovered there by his father. As expected, things work out dandy by the conclusion as the family watches it begin to snow and feel together again like a family should on Christmas. It ends like a Hallmark postcard showing the ideal beauty of the Christmas season in a wintry New England setting.

It was slow going, with comedy that seemed forced and dramatics that seemed unbelievable–especially how quickly the messy situation gets tidied up just in the nick of time to bring in the Yuletide with cheer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”