Sarah Jessica Parker as Meredith Morton
Diane Keaton as Sybil Stone
Claire Danes as Julie Morton
Rachel McAdams as Amy Stone
Dermot Mulroney as Everett Stone
Craig T. Nelson as Kelly Stone
Luke Wilson as Ben Stone
Tyrone Giordano as Thad Stone
Brian J. White as Patrick Thomas
Elizabeth Reaser as Susannah Stone Trousdale
Paul Schneider as Brad Stevenson
Savannah Stehlin as Elizabeth Trousdale
Jamie Kaler as John Trousdale
Robert Dioguardi as David Silver
While not exactly a very original comedy premise, the cast of quirky characters and their interaction is enjoyable enough that this tame film is a perfectly innocuous way to spend a couple hours enjoying the holiday season.
The Stones are an eccentric New England family holding their annual Christmas reunion, but this year, the eldest Everett (Dermot Mulroney) has decided to bring his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet the family. She’s an uptight businesswoman who immediately gets on the nerves of the tight knit family, especially Everett’s sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) and his judgmental mother Sybil (Diane Keaton). Things get even worse when Meredith’s sister Julie (Claire Danes) shows up and the family instantly accepts her.
The second movie by filmmaker Thomas Bezucha may be the first one that anyone actually sees, mainly thanks to the incredible all-star cast assembled for it. The premise is simple enough and not too original, as a guy who brings his girlfriend home to meet his family, afraid what they’ll think of her and what she’ll think of them. From everything that happens after that, he has every right to be worried.
Sure, the five or six of you who have seen “Junebug” will think this sounds a bit familiar, but “The Family Stone” is a lot more mainstream in its attempts to go for the same type of situational humor that made movies like “Meet the Parents” and “Father of the Bride” so much fun. Despite the “in your face” poster at right, the humor never gets too irreverent, and for the most part, it’s fairly tame and safe.
In that sense, it’s a great vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker, who gets to play against type as a neurotic and uptight New York woman, out of her element amongst a family of lunatics that seem to instantly dislike her, and want to do everything to make her look bad. Meredith is not the type of character who audiences can immediately embrace, but it’s easy to relate to her attempts to fit in and get along with all of them.
At the forefront of the assault is Rachel McAdams as Everett’s bratty younger sister Amy, who goes out of her way to get into it with Meredith. Just in case McAdams isn’t already the most perfect woman on the face of the planet, her character spends most of the movie wearing a Dinosaur Jr. T-shirt, and she actually pulls off being a grungy bohemian as easily as she does the classy and fashionable woman she’s played in other movies.
The film’s comedic highlights are the scenes shared between Parker and Luke Wilson, who channels Jeff Daniels or Bill Pullman to play Ben, Everett’s laid back pot-smoking brother who is immediately taken by Meredith, even though they would seem like complete opposites. He’s convinced that she has a freak flag and that she just needs to fly it more, and in the film’s funniest scene, he tries to console her frustrations at a bar where she does indeed let loose. Anyone who remembers the TV show “Square Pegs” might notice that Ms. Parker has not exactly added to her dance repertoire in the 20 years since then.
Of course, Diane Keaton is always great, and the role of Everett’s mother isn’t too far removed from roles she’s played in the past, as she brings a different type of neurosis to the mix with Meredith. Her key role in the film is to criticize Everett for his choice in the woman, but she’s keeping a tragic secret from her family that allows for many touching moments between them. She’s obviously the lynchpin that holds this family together.
The family dynamics are well done, making it easier to believe that this disparate group might be related. A lot of the family bonding revolves around the younger brother Thad, who is deaf and in a relationship with a black man. The family is very accepting of this, but Meredith’s attempts to show her own liberal nature builds to a dramatic moment around the Christmas dinner where she puts her foot so far into her mouth that there’s very little way of her get out of it, something made even tougher when Everett doesn’t stand by her, leading to an interesting twist that only Seinfeld might appreciate.
What Didn’t Work:
The abundance of overly sweet sentimentality and drama might be too cheesy for anyone who has a single cynical bone in their body. There are already too many characters, but the fact that each one of them has their own moment of revelation or a happy ending makes the whole thing seem contrived, especially because it’s set during Christmas time.
The movie never figures out if it wants to be a serious indie family drama or a mainstream comedy. Because of this indecision, a lot of the physical humor comes across as too “slapsticky,” and there’s a lot of the type of schtick used in mainstream comedies to get easy laughs, such as the poorly staged pratfalls.
Dermot Mulroney is a bit of a dud, and honestly, that’s not news. The person who thought that he could be convincing as a romantic lead should have their heads examined, because he doesn’t have the charm or charisma to pull off such a weighty lead role as this one. Claire Danes is slightly better as a romantic interest, but she just isn’t very convincing when she tries to get into the comedy.
The Bottom Line:
There isn’t much to offer this that hasn’t been seen in other fish-out-of-water family comedies from “Guess Who” to “Meet the Parents” to Phil Morrison’s “Junebug”, although it’s easy to appreciate the fine array of quirky characters and performances in this often heartwarming dramedy. Put it this way. If this movie doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit, than you’re either dead or Jewish.