Some of us are lucky enough that the thought of a holiday with the family produces warm fuzzy feelings of good times, catching up, and feeling loved. Other people are unfortunate and the thought produces feelings of a tedious, obligatory nightmare of spending time with people they can't stand. Every year Hollywood likes to make at least one movie about family during the Holidays and the I can usually rank the movie on the same scale somewhere between warm fuzzies and tedious nightmares. 2005's entry into the Holiday family genre is The Family Stone. How does it rank? How about a tedious fuzzy?
The Stone family is getting ready for the holidays. There's well-to-do son Everett (Dermott Mulroney) and his brittle fiance Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is about to attend her Stone family Christmas and she is (rightly) terrified. The family matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) has something heavy on her mind, but puts on her best face as her gay deaf son Thad (Tyrone Giordano) comes home with his long-time partner Patrick (Brian White). Then there's older sister Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) who is pregnant with her second child and has some sort of marriage problems, Susannah's daughter Elizabeth (Savannah Stehline), and youngest sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) who can best be described as the family meany-head. Last to wander in is stoner brother Ben (Luke Wilson). Oh yeah, there's dad too (Craig T. Nelson) who doesn't get a lot to do.
That's one hell of a cast! What about the plot? Let's see - the progressive liberal Stone family takes an almost uniform dislike to the wound up too tight and conservative Meredith upon meeting her. Amy in particular treats her horribly to the point Meredith goes to a hotel for the night and calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for emotional support. Everett picks Julie up at the bus station and is obviously smitten with her. Meanwhile, Ben takes a liking to Meredith, and after a particularly uncomfortable Christmas Eve dinner where Meredith manages to stick her foot in her mouth all the way up to her knee, he takes her out for a few beers. Oh, yes: Thad and Patrick are adopting a child, mom has some health problems she's hiding from most of her family, Amy snots a lot, and everything blows up on Christmas day as Meredith wakes up to find herself in Ben's bed.
As I said earlier, the movie is tedious, which is a shame considering the cast. I thought about it for a while, and I think I ended up not liking the movie because of the way the family initially treats Meredith. Meredith is not an instantly likable character herself, but when she is ridden out of the house the first night she meets the family I instantly felt bad for her and hated the Stones. The second half of the movie concentrated mostly with Everett having a romantic time with Julie (these scenes dragged - boring!) and Ben trying to get Meredith to unwind (far more interesting, although I think the audience is supposed to like Everett and Julie more). My problem with this movie, other than more characters than neccessary and a plot that goes nowhere but in the most banal direction, is that I didn't connect with anyone. I just didn't get over my initial dislike of everyone and then the movie had too much going on afterwards so that no character got enough development. This talented cast could have been used better.
The DVD release is a decent package. The sound and picture are of the quality that is expected of any release these days and it comes with a holiday heaping pile of extras - including 2 commentaries, deleted scenes, various featurettes, and a recipe for strata, which is an amusing touch. I like that idea so much someone should re-release Goodfellas and include a cookbook on dvd in its extras.
Listening to the two commentaries was a painful experience - one featured Sarah Jessica Parker giggling a lot as she and Dermot Mulroney narrated scenes. The other featured writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Micheal London, editor Jeffrey Ford, and production designer Jane Anne Stewart. This commentary should have been more interesting but I found it tedious as well. If I had liked the movie better this may not have been the case. And may I take a moment to complain about blooper reels? People flubbing their lines may have been funny to them at the time but I find it boring.
The Family Stone disappointed me. Watching it makes me want to watch Jodie Foster's Home For the Holidays, the 1995 entry into the Holiday Family movie. While it has its own flaws, I like the family more and it's funnier. Also, the gay brother in that family is allowed to be a bit of a jerk. Rent that one instead, unless you are trying to complete your Diane Keaton collection.