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Awesome: 5.77%
Worth A Look73.08%
Average: 5.77%
Pretty Bad: 13.46%
Total Crap: 1.92%

6 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Family Stone, The
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by Erik Childress

"And You Thought YOU Were Uncomfortable During The Holidays?"
4 stars

The holidays are such a schizophrenic time whether anyone wants to admit them or not. It’s the only period that can equally use the terms of joyful and depressing, where drinking is at an all-time high and family reunions inspire gleeful anticipation and stomach-churning uncertainty. Many movies prefer to play up the humor in these situations, often giving way to wacky miscalculations and reminders that you are watching a movie. Thomas Bezucha’s The Family Stone, while on the surface seems like just the next Meet the Parents, is a closer sidebar to Jodie Foster’s overlooked Home for the Holidays.Aside from the occasional slip into heavy-handedness and obvious plot ruminations, Bezucha’s film accurately captures the forlorn hysteria of those few days when love should be the primary emotion and not judgmental claustrophobia.

The Stone family is gathering for Christmas. Gay/deaf son Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his African-American partner, Patrick (Brian White) are the first to arrive and from the get-go, we know that this is a tightknit group that would rather joke about their foibles than adjudicate them. Also arriving into the home of Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson) are daughter Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) acting as a surrogate for Thad & Patrick’s baby, Ben (Luke Wilson) whose marijuana usage is viewed more as a hobby than an addictive nuisance and Everett (Dermot Mulroney) who is bringing his girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the first time.

Still living upstairs is the youngest, Amy (Rachel McAdams), the only recipient of time spent with Meredith and to say first impressions are not Amy’s strongsuit is an understatement. Before they arrive, Amy gives mom and siblings the 4-1-1 on Meredith’s uptight ways and has them, knowingly or not, on the offensive from the get-go. Not exactly the place Meredith wants to be as a control freak with the amorphous cell phone attached to her ear. What, under some roofs, would seem like a gesture of respect – Meredith kicks off her stay by refusing to sleep in the same bed with Everett thus putting Amy out of her own room and onto the couch. Amy’s sneaky snarking continues and puts Meredith at such unease that she’s forced to call in her own sister, the lovely Julie (Claire Danes) as a reinforcement since everyone she meets takes a shine to her.

Bezucha does a nice job with these early scenes, but I was pleasantly surprised how well he handles the knowledge we slowly become aware of Keaton’s character. It becomes a little-known secret amongst the household that their matriarch is sick and is regressing. They would just as soon as keep it under wraps, but there is devastation in the slow reveals of how much the children know of it. A slow-burning feud over Sybil’s refusal to give up her mother’s ring so Everett can propose rings true. As the audience sits in judgment over Meredith, we understand why the family opposes her but not why Everett so approves until a key moment when clarity shines on his motives and we forgive whatever misgivings we had about the setup.

What is unforgivable is Bezucha’s betraying the film’s sincerity for a moment where the seething emotions and potential for screwball mayhem blow up into what can best be described as something out of a bad holiday movie trailer. Just as all his components are coming to a head and we’ve reached the emotional highpoint, Bezucha resorts to a ridiculous chase/destruction of the kitchen with characters turning tears into laughter while the co-opted bastardization of Tchaikovsky’s Russian Nutcracker Dance plays on the soundtrack to punctuate the ensuing wackiness. There are smarter and funnier ways to relieve tension (as witnessed by Paul Schneider’s priceless reaction to one of Meredith’s revelations) and it’s a shame that Bezucha had to go for something out of Christmas Vacation (or worse – Yours, Mine & Ours.)

It’s far from the only “ol’ reliable” that Bezucha goes for. The whole potential for partner swapping is telegraphed far too visibly and disappoints when everyone conveniently forgets about the horrible things that have been said or done. These are elements that may be enough to sink The Family Stone if you haven’t already granted it the ability to hit you in the heart with its honesty. The fuse that burns during a dinner table gathering, complete with the more perceptive way of using humor as defense (which Meredith dreadfully misreads) has the truth of seething undercurrents that the family never considered existing. Craig T. Nelson, a beloved character actor for years, plays Kelly as the symbol of the family’s unity – strong and caring – but one straining to keep his emotions in check; a shield which shows its chinks during a bleacher chat with Ben and putting the exclamation point on that dinner scene. All of the performances are strong, particularly those of Keaton, McAdams and Wilson’s low-key comic relief. And for those keeping track, Claire Danes maintains her 1,000 crying average.

It took a little while for me to warm up with The Family Stone. Part of that may have been my own expectations based on what appeared to be a really dark comedy. Sure, its very funny in spots – not long, sustained guffaws but the humor of the moment – but this is a delicate drama full of warts (ugly & funny) that sneakily drew me into its pathos without setting off my radar for manipulation. I would have liked to know more about McAdams’ character, who is amusing but a little more broadly drawn than the others, who have put their pain on hold for that time of year when we’re all reminded to be joyous and express good tidings. And if you can’t find that amongst family, then the holidays certainly can be a depressing time.

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originally posted: 12/16/05 16:18:51
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User Comments

12/02/17 Suzanne Best parts: he chase scene and any scene with Luke Wilson 4 stars
5/01/09 the dork knight SJP is not very convincing as uptight bitch. But yeah, I concur. Claine Danes = H-O-T 4 stars
11/17/07 David Pollastrini Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams lok=oked very hot in this! 4 stars
5/05/07 Indychick pointless crap. Marketed as a comedy but has no humor 1 stars
12/28/06 Agent Sands Caring for the family is like caring for the one we could hardly endure in Meet the Parents 3 stars
8/14/06 Sharon this movie will make you laugh, cry, and have you on the edge of your seat totally worth it 5 stars
5/08/06 Diane Perkins Diane Keaton and Rachel Mcadams were excellent in this movie. 4 stars
3/05/06 Allison Lafferty I like Rachel too, but Amy taunts Meredith too cruelly. 4 stars
3/05/06 I love Rachel McAdams Worth it alone for the way Rachel McAdams flexes her caca-kissers near the end. 4 stars
3/04/06 Marcia Lartz Eric, I actually liked '"one yeer later" epilogue'. Too many movie leave too much hanging. 4 stars
1/27/06 Don Paco Sobczinsky says it best: characters are smug, self-righteous and emotionally in-bred jerks 2 stars
1/07/06 Tim Chandler Lots of potential, but it falls apart in the last third. 3 stars
1/06/06 Anthony Heart warming and heart wrenching. A little predictable, but highly entertaining. 5 stars
1/02/06 Jeff Anderson Touching & heartfelt. With the exception of Parker, the cast is great especially McAdams!!! 5 stars
12/17/05 Suzz you laugh/ you cry; you're entertained; what's not to like 4 stars
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  16-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 02-May-2006



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