Monday 18 December 2017

Movie Review: The Family Stone (2005)

A Christmas family comedy, The Family Stone features plastic people, events and emotions. A strong cast salvages a few moments of merriment.

Christmas time is approaching, and New York City-based businessman Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) and his new fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) travel to the Stone family home in Massachusetts for the Holidays. Meredith is highly strung, and is immediately a misfit within the Stone family dynamics. Everett's parents Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) are upbeat but dealing with Sybil's illness.

Meanwhile, Everett's siblings do little to make their guest feel welcome. Amy (Rachel McAdams) is the youngest and immediately harbours a bratty dislike towards Meredith; Thad (Tyrone Giordano) is deaf and gay and in a relationship with Patrick (Brian J. White), who is black; Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) is pregnant. Only the laid back Ben (Luke Wilson) makes an effort to reach out. Meredith commits every social faux-pas in the book and grows increasingly frantic. She finally appeals to her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to ride to the rescue.

Directed and written by Thomas Bezucha, The Family Stone offers harmless entertainment filled with contrived situations all leading towards saccharine happily-ever-after resolutions with just a touch of seasonal melancholia. The film is undermined by an almost total absence of authenticity, with the cast struggling against a script seeking laughs but most often inducing groans.

Meredith's fish-out-of-water behaviour is sometimes funny but always unbelievably awkward. Stressed or not, a successful businesswoman should know better how to charm her way into a new environment, but here the script demands that she does nothing except practice aggressive foot-in-mouth. Equally, the adults of the Stone family behave like immature children around the new love of their eldest son and sibling.

The Family Stone is saved from a total loss by a willing cast. Sarah Jessica Parker plays against type and pulls off Meredith as a stuck-up and socially inept diva. Rachel McAdams gives young Amy an attitudinal edge, and Luke Wilson brings out the friendly black sheep of the family in Ben's observe-first, act-later approach to navigating his tumultuous family. Diane Keaton struggles for meaningful screen time, and Claire Danes ghosts into the movie as Julie with the preordained purpose of playing the romantic disruptor, because the script says so.

The Family Stone sometimes induces a tight smile, but rarely delivers a genuine note.

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