The Family Stone

There's something about Christmas that brings out all of the dysfunction family movies. After all, what better way for a family to reunite that during the Holidays? The Family Stone feels like a warmer version of last year's fiasco Surviving Christmas. Basically, take a somewhat dysfunctional family and add in an unknown element. In this case, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney, Must Love Dogs, The Wedding Date) is bringing his girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker, State and Main, Dudley Do-Right) to his wacky family. And herein lies the rub.

The Family Stone is the second effort from writer/director Thomas Bezucha. His first film was the wonderful Big Eden, a little-seen film about a man coming to terms with his sexuality. This film replaces all the smaller stars with big names, then guts any sense of realism. The Meredith character is the reason. In order to make the Christmas as uncomfortable as possible, Bezucha turns the Meredith character into a caricature. She is uncomfortable around people and prefers handshakes to hugs. She is uptight (as evidenced by her bun) and makes weird noises when she clears her throat. Meredith is weird, annoying, and it is totally unclear why Everett is in love with her. Once the Stone family descends on her, all hell breaks loose.

Everett's parents, Sybil (Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give, Town & Country) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson, The Incredibles, The Skulls) have their reservations about Meredith, but for the most part remain quite. Amy (Rachel McAdams, Red Eye, Wedding Crashers) is in a state of all-out war with Meredith. Ben (Luke Wilson, Around the World in 80 Days, Anchorman) is much more laid back about everything, and Thad (Tyrone Giordano, A Lot Like Love) is the token deaf gay guy while Patrick Thomas (Brian White, Mr. 3000) is his token black partner, and Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser, Stay, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) is the pregnant sister. The point of such a large group of people was to throw Meredith into chaos, the exact opposite of her tightly controlled world.

The problem is that there are too many characters. As a result, some people only have a few lines, and feel like they are part of the script only to further embarrass Meredith at some point. She needs some solace, so she calls her sister Julie (Claire Danes, Shopgirl, Stage Beauty), adding yet another person to the cast. Again, the cast is impressive, but all too often they just shout at each other. It's fairly obvious where The Family Stone is headed, and Bezucha makes no attempts at anything fancy. The one thing he does do a bit different is give some of the Stone's their own foibles, as well as softens the Meredith character earlier than usual. All of these people are good deep down, they just need to relax a bit and not try as hard to get along. Each person eventually has their moment for an ooey-gooey Christmas, and Bezucha ends on a bittersweet note that mark. It begins and ends exactly like people would expect, which, is good enough for some people. But that doesn't necessarily make it a good movie.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue and drug references.

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