To put a damper on the holiday spirit, The Family Stone offers a great big lump of coal in your stocking. This holiday season, instead of the usual Playstations and Ipods, Santa has decided to pack his sleigh with a morose depressing family for your viewing displeasure. Are you aching for a great big Christmas downer? Look no further.
The Family Stone is about a judgmental New England family that inaccurately believes they are open-minded Bohemians. Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) is the dominant matriarch of the house, who loves her kids so much that she allows their unpleasant characteristics to rub off on her. When her successful, golden boy son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his new upscale girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), the family greets her with the warmth of the North Pole. Amy (Rachel McAdams), the youngest sibling, publicly mocks the grating way she clears her throat, and goes out of her way to humiliate her. Such fun cannot be resisted, and the rest of them jump on the bandwagon. Even the deaf, gay son Thad (Ty Giordano) uses sign language to express his contempt for Meredith. What a charming bunch.
As awful as the Stone family behaves, Meredith is barely an improvement. Although she makes an effort to assimilate, she radiates a standoffish vibe that makes her appear like an ice princess. She is one of those chatty cell-phone gabbers, who spill every detail of how her and her beau met, even if people are clearly not listening. It’s her way of trying to bond, but it irritates everyone in the room. To add insult to injury, she refuses to share a bed at the family’s home because she finds it improper. Everett himself doesn’t seem to be too fond of her, even though he is planning to ask for her hand in marriage. “I can see you beginning to look at me like they do”, Meredith says to him, and his expression proves her right.
The movie is supposed to be more honest than most holiday movies, but who wants to watch a miserable bunch of people mistreat each other? If that’s honesty, I’d prefer to watch “Frosty the Snowman” try and find happiness. There is such an uncomfortable quality to the movie—watching Meredith try to fit in with this family and failing miserably—that I have to wonder who would call this a comedy. It’s funny in the way watching the loser in school get his head slammed into a locker is. Mean-spirited and cruel, sure, but if that makes you laugh, you probably lack a conscience.
If the bitter ugliness isn’t enough, the movie sets up obvious plot twists. When Meredith meets other brother Ben (Luke Wilson), a scrappy film editor from Los Angeles, she is drawn to him and wonders if she picked the wrong brother to bop. The same is true for Everett, who meets Meredith’s sister Julie (Claire Danes), visiting for emotional support, and is instantly smitten with her. It is clear that Meredith and Everett barely know or like each other, so a fall out wouldn’t be a shocker. But playing an odd game of sibling swap is just too implausible and absurd, even for a movie like The Family Stone. To prove itself completely unoriginal, a conveniently timed holiday disease is thrown in to give the characters even more to complain about.
The Family Stone is not only the least jolly holiday movie in recent memory, but also the most preposterous. It fails to be funny because of the consistently inhumane actions of the characters, and it misses on realism due to the improbable scenarios thrown in the mix. Despite a great cast, a disjointed script by Thomas Bezucha and an bunch of unlikable characters prevent the movie from being enjoyable. The Family Stone is a neatly wrapped present with a colorful allure, but when you reach inside there is nothing but kitty litter. Bah humbug.