The Family Stone (2005)
Written & Directed by Thomas Bezucha
To say The Family Stone is the least bad movie out of the seven I have watched for this series would be accurate, but also not a sign that I enjoyed watching it. I just suffered the least amount during this one. Everything about the story would work better as part of a television series. You have a family dynamic with one person coming from outside, conflict arises, and we get a maudlin sitcom-ish happy ending. The movie is confusing in who this is trying to appeal to as it features incredibly unlikable characters (even the ones we are supposed to like) but then is also wall-to-wall unfunny when it attempts comedy yet also poor at its attempts for pathos.
Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays for the first time. She’s a little conservative but educated. Unfortunately, Meredith’s nerves seem to get the best of her and give a wrong impression to the Stone clan. The Stones are led by papa Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) and mama Sybil (Diane Keaton). Youngest Amy (Rachel McAdams) has met Meredith already and leads the charge in telling her kin how dull the woman is. Then there’s Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), the eldest daughter, who is a busy mom of one with another on the way. But don’t forget Ben (Luke Wilson), the stoner/film editor visiting from sunny California. Meredith begins to feel reasonably outnumbered and calls in help from her sister Julie (Claire Danes), but her presence only makes the situation even more complicated.
I get if The Family Stone is a comfort movie for some people. It is unlike our other selections because it’s not a sensory overloading, nasty comedic mess. However, it could be a better movie. Part of my difficulty in enjoying this picture is the broad types we’re presented with and the shallow development they are given. I love movies about characters and their complicated relationships with one another; that is the fuel that powers the engine of great films. But as I mentioned above, this reads as a sitcom family. The way they speak to each other and behave does not feel close to reality, but the movie wants us to view this as something close to the real world. This is why subject matter related to aging, death, motherhood, complications in love, etc., are woven throughout the picture.
There comes the point where there are just too many plates spinning, and the plot takes some ludicrous turns to “resolve” things. Oh no, Ben seems to have a thing with Meredith behind his brother’s back. But that’s okay because wouldn’t you know it, Everett is really into Julie. So…I guess everything works out perfectly fine. A brief attempt at conflict between the brothers is about as realistic as what you might see on “a very special episode” of Full House. It was pretty impossible for me to not think the partner swapping here would result in the worst holiday ever. I mean, in real life, people would be leaving and possibly not speaking to each other again if this happened to them, right?
In the same way, Pureflix and the Christian Film Propaganda industrial complex churn out wildly unrealistic takes on “red state” America, The Family Stone feels like that for liberal “blue state elites.” This is the idealized version of the lives they imagine or wish to lead. I’m sure many a coastal lib has daydreamed about a cozy house in New England to go home to during Christmas and erudite yet grounded parents who are cool with them, you know, doing whatever. It’s the exact same vibe I would get growing up watching mindless pablum that showcased idealized conservative families who set a bar that resulted in long-term psychological damage and rifts in my own family. America has a real problem with that in its media, attempting to show people unreality and expect them to reach for that illusory golden ring. They call it “aspirational”; I see it as toxic.
The Family Stone commits a movie cardinal sin; it is one of the lowest things a filmmaker can do to garner sympathy from their audience. Mama Stone has cancer. I think a loved one having cancer is a pretty serious thing, and unless your movie is prepared to really tackle that with honesty, showing what it looks like and the way it ripples through a family having to watch a loved one die, then you shouldn’t put it in there. It’s become a cruel cliche in so much of American media to refuse to show the reality of the disease, but looking at the ongoing refusal to come to terms with Covid, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Cancer is so nebulous in this movie. We see a mastectomy scar, and that’s about it. We never see Sybil going through the illness. She had it before; she’s experiencing a recurrence after thinking she’d beat it, then we skip a year to the following Christmas, and Sybil is dead. I never felt a genuine emotion about the whole thing, and I should have. That’s a really sad thing for a family to go through. The movie just fumbles it completely.
Ultimately, The Family Stone is an overstuffed attempt at making a “different kind” of holiday movie. It doesn’t succeed, but if you loved this movie as a kid and it’s your comfort flick, you aren’t harming anyone. I am surprised we don’t hear more people talk about the movie based on its cast alone; a pretty stacked deck, in my opinion. If you pick one film out of the seven I’m reviewing as part of A Very 2000s Christmas, make it this one. You might still hate it, but I can’t imagine you’d like it less than the rest of the garbage I’ve been watching. Speaking of…Nancy Meyers, anyone?
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