Film Reviews: Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Family Stone
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Diane Keaton, and Luke Wilson. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The Stones in Concert

Sarah Jessica Parker fights her future in-laws in a surprisingly good reunion comedy.

By KRISTIAN LIN

The trailer for The Family Stone gives the impression of a cozy Christmas family-reunion comedy with some wacky hijinks and a bunch of big stars. Movies like these, no matter how much they suck, always rope in the crowds during the holidays. You’ll be glad to know that this film is actually much thornier and more problematic, and thus more interesting, than most others of its type.

Playing a polar opposite of Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker is Meredith, a nervous, tightly wound control freak who’s about to be engaged to Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) and has gone to meet his large family in New England: parents (Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton), stoner brother Ben (Luke Wilson), eternally pregnant sister Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), über-bitchy sister Amy (a very sharp Rachel McAdams), and brother Thad (Ty Giordano), who’s gay, deaf, and in a committed relationship with an African-American (Brian White) — which is surely some sort of trifecta for a fictional character.

Meredith is rather annoying, but you root for her anyway because the atmosphere in the Stone house is so hostile toward her. Even though they don’t think Everett should be getting married, for reasons that aren’t made clear until midway through the film, the Stones don’t back off even after he busts them on it. The beleaguered Meredith calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for support, only to see Julie effortlessly charm the family while Meredith’s own desperate attempts to please blow up in her face.

What raises this movie above dreck like Spanglish and Meet the Fockers is that the Stones are intelligent, fully realized characters (even Amy, who has a streak of pure evil) who gradually reveal humanizing though not necessarily redeeming traits. Writer-director Thomas Bezucha plays cagily with the crucial plot revelation, and he does extremely good work with the Stones’ family dynamic — these people have some major problems, but their love for one another is always there. Bezucha, whose only other filmmaking credit is the low-budget gay-themed 2001 drama Big Eden, isn’t nearly as good at resolving the two romantic subplots that emerge; it makes sense that Meredith and Everett are wrong for each other, but the people they wind up with seem arbitrarily chosen. The movie bogs down in molasses in pairing them up, and its 15-minute epilogue is completely unnecessary.

Still, The Family Stone is most memorable at its most barbed, as in a dinner-table conversation in which Meredith learns that Thad and his partner are adopting a baby, to which she says, “But you don’t want your kid to be gay, do you?” The lengthy sequence that follows is appalling, as Meredith tries to explain herself, aware that she’s sinking deeper into trouble with every word yet somehow unable to stop talking. The horror in this scene exceeds anything that Robert DeNiro threw at Ben Stiller, and it helps give this movie a weight that most Hollywood comedies can only dream of.

You can reach Kristian Lin at kristian.lin@fwweekly.com.


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