THE FAMILY STONE
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)
"Dysfunctional" doesn't even begin to describe "The Family Stone," a
home-for-the-holidays domestic "comedy" in which bad things happen to
truly dreadful people. And I'm not referring to the family at the
center of this miserable misfire as non-functional, necessarily
(although of course they are). I'm talking about the film in general.
As written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, "The Family Stone" is an
ungodly mess, a jumble of mostly decent performances drowning under the
weight of a seriously stillborn script. Bezucha lays the groundwork
for a robust familial comedy in that "Meet the Parents" screwball vein
and then peppers it with despicable characters. And if that decision
isn't questionable enough he then asks us to sympathize with--as well
as laugh loudly alongside--these undesirable types when they act mean,
creepy, and/or stupid.
It's Christmas and eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his
hyper uptight fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet the
folks for the first time. In addition to Mom and Dad (Diane Keaton and
Craig T. Nelson), the cozy New England retreat also lays claim to
bohemian slacker son Ben (Luke Wilson), gay/deaf son Thad (Ty
Giordano), kid sister Amy (Rachel McAdams), and pregnant daughter
Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), notably sans husband. Nearly all
household members convey an immediate, almost inbred dislike towards
Meredith, although not one has ever clapped eyes on her before.
One can only assume it's because nobody believes *any* woman to be good
enough for corporate beefcake Everett. (And Everett, as it will
transpire, also has his doubts.) Or it could simply be because the
Stones are all, basically, jerks.
Meredith doesn't help matters any by being obnoxious and officious from
the get-go, with inappropriate party patter and an unerring tendency to
fly the freak flag. Her attire is simply all wrong for a New England
winter visit--she dons heels instead of snow boots--and she seems way
more attached to her mobile than to her beau (although Ben takes an
inappropriate shine to her).
And when things start unraveling quickly and distastefully and Meredith
calls in her pretty sister Julie (Claire Danes) as backup, Everett
takes an inappropriate liking to *her*.
The mystery, life-threatening disease guarded by Keaton's manic
matriarch can only be dementia the way she plays it up: smug, mean-
spirited, and prone to emotional outbursts. Yet Sybil's clan rallies
around her, supporting and contributing to her nastiness.
>From the outset it appears that Bezucha was shooting for a wacky, Capra-
esque fish-out-of-water comedy that would culminate in love and
redemption and warm, wooly feelings all around. Instead, he's
fashioned a tiresome, prickly melodrama that grows more and more
unpleasant with every passing revelation, resulting in shock, outrage,
even revulsion. There's always the possibility that one could be
misinterpreting some of the family Stone's motivations, but Bezucha
consistently supports our worst fears, either by the off-the-wall
actions of his leads, the romantic muzak on the soundtrack, or the
strong sense that these are, after all, just a bunch of lovable misfits
who deserve the same sappy endings as everyone else.
Not this crowd. Despite the earnest contributions of its cast, "The
Family Stone" remains what it tries so hard to avoid: a graceless and
tasteless freak show.
David N. Butterworth
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