© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, Tyrone Giordano, Brian White, Paul Schneider, Elizabeth Reaser
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Writers: Thomas Bezucha
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content, drug references
Running time: 102 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total Score – 6.9 out of 10
The film’s title has double meanings: It’s a story about the Stone family, but it also centers on the family stone, an heirloom diamond ring that gets passed down from generation to generation. In a nutshell, THE FAMILY STONE is a story about family.
Every Christmas, the Stones gather at the parents’ house for a long weekend. Mama Sybil (Keaton) and Papa Kelly (Nelson) Stone are a loving, laid-back couple. Their children: first-born Everett (Mulroney), a successful businessman (and the one most unlike the rest of the family); Ben (Wilson), a stoner from Berkeley; Susannah (Reaser), a expecting housewife with a young daughter Elizabeth (Savannah Stehlin); Amy (McAdams), an aimless single woman; and Thad (Giordano), their deaf and gay youngest son.
This year, Everett decides to bring his girlfriend Meredith (Parker) along to meet the family. Meredith is an uptight control-freak who thinks everyone is against her. Everett intends to propose to her during the weekend, and he wants to have his mother’s ring (the family stone). Knowing her son more than he knows himself, Sybil refuses to give him the ring. Meredith, on the other hand, digs herself deeper and deeper into a hole as she sticks out like a sore thumb around the Stones. In desperation, she asks her sister Juile (Danes) to come as her support. The weekend unfolds with the usual family dramas, secrets, heartbreaks and unexpected romances.
The cast is generally very good. Parker (STRANGERS WITH CANDY) sheds her Carrie Bradshaw image and arrives as the wound-up doll with a spoon up her butt. She has the most showy role and she delivers. Mulroney (MUST LOVE DOGS) plays her equally uptight beau with good nature. McAdams (RED-EYE) is spunky, and Wilson (WENDELL BAKER STORY) is groovy as her stoner brother. Giordano (A LOT LIKE LOVE) and White (DIRTY) are sweet as the adorable gay couple. Reaser (STAY) has the obscure role as the quiet and supportive sister, but she handles it with tenderness. Danes (SHOPGIRL) is the complete opposite of Meredith, but somehow I feel like she’s just playing herself. Keaton (SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE) is, as usual, wonderful, and Nelson (THE INCREDIBLES) is equally affecting and touching.
Director Bezucha (BIG EDEN) has a knack for small, sweet tearjerkers. He knows how to let his actors do their job. With such a huge and talented cast, Bezucha keeps it very straight and simple. It’s not an easy task and I think he has done a good job. The actors are clearly the strength of this familiar tale of holiday tale.
As a writer, though, he’s almost shameless when handing out heart-tugging morsels. From the quiet chat between father and son, to the soul-baring confessions between would-be lovers, Bezucha is relentless with the sentimentality. It’s not to say he’s always heavy-handed. There are certainly some genuinely touching moments: when Susannah cuddles with her mother in bed, or when Ben asks his father an important question. These moments do tend to put a lump in one’s throat.
However, Bezucha also hits you with a two by four with social commentaries with regard to homosexuality, or the “follow your heart” spiel. It gets preachy, especially toward the end. It’s kind of suspicious that the only perfect couple is gay. The plot is all too predictable, and at the end, all the loose ends get tied up neatly with a big red bow. The ending feels like an epilogue – “and they all live happily ever after” – presented as a Hallmark card (I would have preferred the film ending with the close-up of Mulroney). Too nice. Almost too sweet. THE FAMILY STONE is a fantasy. It’s not to say it’s bad. But it’s familiar and sweet and perfect, and no family fare should be this perfect.