FAMILY STONE, THE
Neither Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton), the strong-willed family matriarch, nor her somewhat bohemian family are pleased when their eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings his girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for Christmas. Meredith is an uptight, career driven New Yorker. Everett's younger sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) leads the bitchy charge, as the Christmas from hell begins to unfold. Meredith urgently invites her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come and give her support, but it's no use and when she finally cracks, Everett's knockabout brother Ben (Luke Wilson) lends her his shoulder to cry on, which sets off a chain reaction of cross sibling misunderstandings and romantic musical chairs.
Review by Louise Keller:
Richly satisfying, The Family Stone takes us from laughter to tears and back again. Smart writing balances the fine line between comedy and tragedy, as family members with warm hearts get together for their Christmas celebrations in the winter chill. It's the stranger in their midst (Sarah Jessica Parker's paranoid, brittle Meredith) who is the catalyst for change and shifts the dynamic. Gifts are exchanged, egos destroyed, true loves discovered and secrets are revealed in this feel-good romantic comedy drama about love and family.
Writer director Thomas Bezucha judges the tone perfectly, allowing the honesty of family interaction to be prevalent, first and foremost. Sensitive themes including gay parenting, racial issues and illness are seamlessly integrated in the bustle of family conflicts, sibling gripes and allergies to mushrooms. The comedy is of the best possible kind - tragedies that we all relate to, but are happening to someone else.
The cast is hand picked and Diane Keaton ably sets the emotional levels, injecting the right emotional volume on every issue. Parker is perfect as the tightly wound up Meredith with the inappropriate stilettos and symbolically pulled back hair, and it's no wonder that the whole family warms instinctively to her diametrically opposite in Claire Dane's sister Julie with the soft flowing hair and natural smile. The balance of the cast is pretty perfect and even the complex resolutions involving life, death and bedhopping are never simplified.
The Family Stone is a multi-faceted gem - showcasing the light and shade of relationships, encased in the precious setting of family.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Not as broad as Meet The Parents, The Family Stone is nevertheless a large comedy, but carefully plotted to give maximum leverage to all the conventions of the genre. It begins with the family gathering for Christmas, and the family soon turns into a posse, ready to turn the newcomer, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), into the turkey for roasting.
Just as this scenario starts to get repetitious, the screenplay introduces a juicy new element in the form of Meredith's sister, Julie (Claire Danes). What was a one directional rom com then becomes a more interesting variety, as previously incidental characters Ben (Luke Wilson) and Julie expand the romantic equation - in ways we don't expect. Other elements that add texture are the little gay brother (who is deaf) and his charming black boyfriend, and Sybil's dramatic secret.
Sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes briefly contemplative, other times plain sad, the film is well paced and cleverly edited. But it still can't claim to be totally truthful, Diane Keaton's excellent work notwithstanding, simply because the filmmakers don't trust their audience and overplay their hand so that some things are spelt out in capital letters. They also can't help allowing sentimentality to overtake the film in the latter third, adding to the list of manipulative elements.
All those flaws notwithstanding, The Family Stone (including the title's play on words) is an entertaining diversion, sometimes darker than most romantic comedies and well pitched at mainstream audiences wanting some Christmas settings and therapeutic laughs.
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FAMILY STONE, THE (M)
CAST: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Brian J. White, Paul Schneider
PRODUCER: Michael London
DIRECTOR: Thomas Bezucha
SCRIPT: Thomas Bezucha
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jonathan Brown
EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford
MUSIC: Michael Giacchino
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Ann Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 1, 2005