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The Family Stone
2005 - PG-13 - 102 Mins.
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Producer: MIchael London
Written By: Tomas Bezucha
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams
Review by: Greg Ursic
Official Site: www.thefamilystonemovie.com/
   
While the Christmas season is a busy time for most people it’s doubly so for movie fans who have to find time to get to the theaters, no easy task in a schedule jam packed with shopping, partying, and the obligatory family visits with relatives. Studios are intent on drumming up some extra business, and resurrect all the serious films that came out earlier in the year so that audiences and more importantly the Academy don’t forget them. In addition, there is the last ditch barrage of fresh films that are given limited release in order to squeak in under the Oscar deadline. In a show of Christmas cynicism, it also provides the perfect opportunity to clear out the less than stellar inventory in the hopes that audiences who can’t make it into the blockbusters of their choice will settle for a what should-have-been-direct-to- DVD disaster. And finally there are the holiday-themed movies, which, tend to be even more hit and miss than the run of the mill flicks: for every Christmas Carol and Bad Santa, there are two Christmas with the Kranks or Ernst Saves Christmas. And then there are those that languish uncomfortably in the middle.

For Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), a full-time conservative fussbudget and cell phone addict, meeting her significant other’s close-knit ultra liberal quirky clan is a decidedly no-win situation. Doing it at Christmas, when everyone else is in their comfort zone (or discomfort zone depending on who you talk to) is like running through an obstacle course with a case of nitroglycerine – sooner or later it’s going to blow up in your face.

If Sarah Jessica Parker was looking for a role that was world’s apart from Carrie, her character in Sex in the City she found it in Meredith. In this case however, that is a decidedly bad thing: while Meredith’s quirks are momentarily amusing, she is unfunny, unsympathetic and impossible to render likeable, especially in light of some of her offensive dialogue. Parker’s natural bubbly personality – her major selling point - is muzzled by the constraints of the role only springing free with a dull thud in an overly manipulative scene later in the movie. Dermot Mulroney is once again called upon to be the sensible good-looking nice boyfriend and as Everett Stone is the epitome of bland, a vacuous soulless character who is little more than a plot point. It is left to the supporting cast to carry the film.

Craig T. Nelson, whom I’ve never been a big fan of, surprises as Kelly, the Stone family patriarch, evoking a varied array of believable emotions, most notably the poignant moments that he shares with Diane Keaton and Luke Wilson. The scenes are truly heartfelt yet shy away from tawdry melodrama. Diane Keaton’s Sybil is both the rock of strength for the family Stone, and it’s font of humor. Keaton is also called upon to carry the story’s dramatic plot twist, which she manages with subtlety. Luke Wilson succeeds at what he does best – playing the slacker son/friend, in this case Ben, the weird sheep of the family who sees the potential in Meredith and is determined to help her “fly her freak flag” and contributes the movie’s only comedic scenes. Finally there is Rachel MacAdams who, following on the heels of solid performances in The Wedding Crashers and Red Eye stands out once again. As Amy, the perpetually sweats-clad family cynic/smart ass, MacAdams fleshes out a character that is insightful, intelligent, and possessed of an acidic wit – the one thing you know for sure is that you don’t want to be on the receiving of her ire. Once again however, we’re drawn back to the plot.

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha occasionally succeeds in tapping into familiar familial dynamics, yet for the most part the plot elements smack of overt manipulation and don’t ring true. For example, not only is the youngest son deaf, he’s also gay, and just to bring in the last demographic and demonstrate the Stone family acceptance, his lover is black, which in turn sets up the aforementioned offensive moments. While I accept that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of same sex couples, Meredith’s relentless fumbling with this and related subjects is ludicrous – no one is that clueless. This and several other ridiculous plot elements sink what good intentions and potential remain. Humbug!
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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