Who wants to be thrown into the lion’s den -- especially at Christmas time? In The Family Stone, an uptight career woman fears that’s what might happen to her when she agrees to meet her boyfriend’s bohemian family and spend the holidays with them. Considering the reception she receives in this contrived dramedy, lions would be an improvement over the Stones, whose idea of hospitality stems from Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition.
“You have a beautiful home,” Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) tells the Stone matriarch (Diane Keaton) upon first meeting her. “Better to entertain you with,” replies the sarcastic, sharp-tongued Sybil. However, it’s Meredith who provides most of the entertainment by behavior the Stones find oh-so funny, particularly her nervous throat-clearing tic. She also talks too much, says the wrong thing and refuses to share a room with Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who tries to get the family to take it easy on his girlfriend, but to no avail. Sybil even refuses to give him the ring she promised would go to the woman he falls in love with.
The main instigator of this anti-Meredith campaign is Amy (Rachel McAdams), Everett’s youngest sister, a very angry young woman who has met Meredith before. Only his laid-back brother Ben (Luke Williams) seems to have any sympathy for the unwelcome guest – perhaps too much, as it turns out.
The situation becomes almost unbearable for Meredith, so she calls for reinforcements. She asks her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come to her aid. After Julie arrives, romantic complications develop rather quickly. Actually, much too quickly to be believable. In one scene, Julie and Everett carry on a totally unconvincing conversation about a totem pole while walking together searching for Meredith. This little talk is supposed to clue us in on their strong attraction to each other, but I sensed no chemistry between the usually fine actors playing these two characters.
Writer/director Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden) turns The Family Stone into a combined tearjerker/slapstick comedy with only limited success. The serious illness of one character casts a pall over the holiday get-together, and the film’s silly pratfalls failed to cheer me up. However, I loved the tenderness expressed between Diane Keaton’s character and her husband (Craig T. Nelson) in their few scenes together. Luke Wilson also impressed me with his appealing, sensitive performance. He plays the most sympathetic character in this large ensemble cast. And, while doing an excellent job in a very difficult role, Sarah Jessica Parker comes across so annoying I almost sided with the Stones in their judgment about Meredith -- which probably proves that Parker deserves her recent Golden Globe nomination for this performance.
Although The Family Stone can’t match Home for the Holidays and Stuart Saves His Family in their entertaining presentation of similar themes, it serves as another reminder to be more tolerant of each other, and that’s an appropriate message for the holidays -- or for any time of the year.
(Released by Fox 2000 Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some sexual content including dialogue and drug references.)