The Family Stone


Rating 2¾

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha

Starring Sarah Jessica Parker (Meredith Morton), Claire Danes (Julie Morton), Dermot Mulroney (Everett Stone), Diane Keaton (Sybil Stone), Craig T Nelson (Kelly Stone), Rachel McAdams (Amy Stone), Luke Wilson (Ben Stone), Tyrone Giordano (Thad Stone), Brian J White (Patrick Thomas), Elizabeth Reaser (Susannah Stone Trousdale), Savannah Stehlin (Elizabeth Trousdale) and Paul Scheinder (Brad Stevenson)

Everett Stone takes his girlfriend Meredith Morton to stay with his family for Christmas. Her somewhat up-tight conservative demeanour clashes with their demonstrative behaviour and bohemian outlook. The family has already been turned against her by Everett’s sister Amy, the only member to have previously met her. Amy makes no attempt to hide her dislike of Meredith and she is joined in this by the mother, Sybil. Meredith feels that she is unwelcome and takes refuge at the local hotel and persuades her sister Julie to join her to give her moral support. As Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day, the various accusations and recriminations reach boiling point.


‘The Family Stone’ was released into cinemas in the US in December 2005 and would appear to have been intended as a kind of throwback to and updating of the screwball comedies of the 1930s. It is not a comedy as such, more a drama with comedic overtones, perhaps vaguely similar to the films of Woody Allen, to a degree. Imagine ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ with all the quirkiness sucked out of it, replaced by some slightly awkward physical comedy. The film benefits from a very good cast. Sarah Jessica Parker, in particular, is excellent. So are Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams. Parker was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.

It is never entirely clear why the Stone family take such an immediate dislike to Meredith, unless we simply assume they are a bunch of hypocritical inverted snobs, which I guess might be the intention. Either that or we are supposed to also react against Meredith because she is not the free spirit they clearly expect any person brought into the family to be. This is apart from Susannah Stone, the older of the two sisters, who is basically a non-character.

Meredith is uptight and a little bit prissy, but she does nothing to deserve the unfriendly way they treat her from the moment she arrives – in spite of a scene later on when the family sit down together for dinner and she makes some embarrassing and questionable comments about homosexuality. They seem to take delight in mocking her and they are so utterly objectionable towards her that even as the story unfolds and individual characters are forced to look at themselves and their actions it is nearly impossible to feel any kind of warmth towards them. Amy is just spiteful and immature, but I found the mother, in particular, quite despicable in her behaviour – and her back-story did nothing to mitigate this, even though I assume we were expected to feel sympathy for her. The film continues in this manner until we reach a kind of wishy-washy final confrontation when truths come out, after which everything is all happy and wrapped up neatly in a ribbon bow.

There is actually a half-decent film hidden in here somewhere. It is done with some degree of expertise and individual scenes are quite effective. The acting is excellent, which is what really holds the film together and makes it watchable. Also, I am a sucker for Christmas films. Perhaps I would have responded more positively to this one had I watched it at Christmas time, rather than on a grey May afternoon.

‘The Family Stone’ received mixed reviews. It has a 52% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 147 reviews. 77 of these reviews were judged to have been positive and 70 were negative. It had a production budget of $18 million and grossed a very respectable $92 million at the box office.

Review posted 14 May 2009


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