The Family Stone

December, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Thomas Bezucha

Starring:Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Tyrone Giordano, Brian J. White, and Dermot Mulroney

Hollywood usually celebrates the holidays by turning out at least one comedy/romance/drama which purports to provide fresh insight, (in addition to the requisite number of laughs) on the current state of the American nuclear family. Having assembled an impressive ensemble cast, writer/director Thomas Bezucha delivers this running commentary on relationships, (parent/child, sibling/sibling, parent/parent) in the Stone family, gathered in their appropriately Martha Stewart-ish manse so that eldest son Everett, (Dermot Mulroney) can present Meredith Morton, (Sally Jessica Parker) for inspection before a formal engagement is announced.

Aiming for the broadest possible holiday audience, Bezucha loads the family up with more emotional baggage than you’d find at O’Hare Airport on the Sunday after Thanksgiving; there’s reaction to a cancer victim, a deaf son, an interracial gay couple, not to mention a pot smoking rebel and a pregnant daughter with a mysteriously absent husband…all packaged to provide sufficient plot opportunities to examine the pathologies any supposedly typical family lugs around with them. 

As Meredith Morton, Parker has a deliciously annoying role into which she jumps with abandon and great skill. She’s the prototypical big city career bitch, long on attitude, self-absorption and confidence in her own perceptions but perilously short on everything that makes for a good human being.  Until the storyline goes mawkish in the third act and turns her into a dewy-eyed, compliant waif, Parker shows her fangs and does it with delicious aplomb.

Mother Stone, (Diane Keaton) has the profane tongue of a fishmonger and the dictatorial style worthy of a Marine drill sergeant, bowling over a compliant husband and 4 other kids in addition to Everett. His choice for a life mate doesn’t suit anyone in the family but it’s Keaton’s sniping which ultimately drives Meredith out of the house and into the arms of Everett’s slacker brother Ben, (played with lazy charm by Luke Wilson). Toss in a pair of sisters and another brother who’s (1) hearing-impaired, (2) gay, (3) in a committed bi-racial relationship and (4) in the process of adopting a son and the director has all the tools he needs to assemble this Erector Set of a movie. In less than two hours, every imaginable plot contrivance gets trotted out, dusted off and put on display. The remarkable thing is just how much of it succeeds in being entertaining.

Bezucha, who began his career as Director of Creative Services for the fashion houses of Ralph Lauren and Coach, misses as many targets as he hits; Stone reminded me of a V-8 engine often running a cylinder or two short-but sharp performances by Keaton, Parker and Rachael Adams as Amy, (the youngest of the Stone siblings) and the laid back charm of Wilson make this piece of Yuletide fluff more interesting than one might expect. Alternately maudlin and insightful, Bezucha’s script would have been a disaster in the hands of less talented actors and he does himself no service by applying too much torque in bending some of the serious issues he raises into a conventional happy ending. But it’s the holidays…who wants to go see a tragedy when something that feels good-if awfully contrived-is also playing?

This one’s as slight as the tinsel on a Christmas tree and provides the about the same amount of substance. Still, a bit of tinsel ain’t so bad this time of year…   

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