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Movie of the Day: The Family Stone (2005)

“I'm sorry, I would sign, but I don't know the language.”
Meredith Morton is not the kind of woman you would call relaxed in social settings. She gets the case of the dry-throats which can result in her trying to clear it, and any attempt to alleviate her awkwardness results in her digging an even bigger hole for herself. And to top it all, she is the fiancée of Everett Stone, and he is about to do the criminal: introduce her to his family.
The Stones are the kind of family anyone would want to be a part of. Liberal minded almost to idealistic extremes, nothing is sacred with them, not the sexual escapades of youngest daughter Amy by one Brad Stevenson which mother Sybil casually makes a reference to (as if this were the latest recipe for apple crumb cake), not brother Ben's fondness for pot and nudity, and certainly not Thad's gayness and interracial lover Patrick and their intentions to adopt.
So why the hostility towards Meredith? Because, as Amy points out and they all come to witness, she's just wrong in more ways than one and Everett, whom they all love, is about to make a grave mistake in marrying her. Meredith lacks the warmth and spontaneity that makes for a complete human being and is a complete control freak who is as incapable of letting loose as they are incapable of being stuffed shirts. Matters get complicated when Meredith calls on her sister Julie and she reveals to be as different from Meredith as day is to night: she's the real deal. And something barely mentioned among the Stones, simmering below the surface has Sybil vehemently opposed to even the thought of Meredith becoming a part of her family.
The Family Stone certainly has moments of hilarity and is being marketed as a romantic comedy, but it really has a little too much emotional gravitas to be considered as such.
Maybe a drama/comedy should fit it better. It's a very poignant film that manages to touch sensitive issues such as terminal disease and gay parenting without ever hammering it in. If the time frame weren't so fixed where the story lines must be solved come Christmas it is possible that it were a shade more believable, but in the tradition of Christmas movies, it's all about the magic and wonder and situations finding closure.Despite a sizable cast, there isn't a role that feels underwritten. Sarah Jessica Parker, in her first starring role since Sex and the City, plays against her girlish type and becomes Meredith Morton - a woman too severe for her own good, too shrill for a family so lax.
Diane Keaton also plays somewhat against her intellectual type and shows what a mother's anger can do when a nasty comment is made. Keaton's interaction with Craig T. Nelson is so heartfelt one could think they have been married in real life for over thirty years. Rachel MacAdams has a field day playing a character whose messiness and blunt nature clashes in every aspect with Meredith's uptightness.
Claire Danes has a role reminiscent of Donna Reed - natural, girlish, wholesome - again a total opposite to Parker, and necessary to make Parker stand out as a sore thumb.
Dermot Mulroney and Luke Wilson also find the right notes in their characters: one wanting to make something of himself and believing that marrying an anal woman will grant him that, the other a sensitive man hiding under an apparent facade of neo-hippiness.
The Family Stone is a genuine, heartfelt movie and despite its political correctness it manages to be nicely subversive while also reviving Christmas films from the 40s, such as Meet Me in St. Louis (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) and The Man Who Came to Dinner… 9/10


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