The Family Stone
directed by Thomas Bezucha
(20th Century Fox, 2005)

Meredith Morton is really, really uptight.

She's about to meet her boyfriend's family. And it's Christmas. But that's beside the point: Meredith is always really, really uptight.

And the Stones, her boyfriend's family, are decidedly not uptight -- except for the fact that her potential mother-in-law is absolutely convinced Meredith is all wrong for her son.

The Family Stone, a play on the family name, the family diamond that Everett Stone may request for Meredith, and maybe in honor of matriarch Sybil Stone, the rock of the family, is an odd mix of slapstick comedy and pathos. It combines two common enough movie themes -- mismatched lovers and the stress of holidays with families -- and it doesn't really do a whole lot to make either of them feel new.

When Everett (a laidback-to-the-point-of-dozing Dermot Mulroney) introduces Meredith (a tightly wound and jittery Sarah Jessica Parker) to Mom (Diane Keaton), you expect there to be some conflict. Everett is mom Sybil's darling, and it's quite obvious Meredith doesn't live up to what Sybil hoped for.

But then, Meredith is her own worst enemy, trying so hard she only digs herself in deeper with every question that turns bigoted, every opinion that offends. And Everett, well, he lets her founder in a sea of Stones.

But if Everett and Meredith are all wrong for each other, writer/director Thomas Bezucha figured, then surely they can just trade around between their family members until they end up with their respective love matches.

And all around this angst swirls Christmas, a family member's illness, a new baby, another broken heart....

Parker has the most thankless task, that of making something sympathetic out of Meredith. And it's hard, in the first half of the movie, to find any reason to cheer Meredith on. It's only after she hits rock bottom that you stop cringing whenever her face shows up.

Keaton and Craig T. Nelson, as Papa Stone, have some wonderful moments together, and there's a wonderful epilogue scene that nearly makes the whole film worthwhile by itself, handling what often becomes a manipulative tearjerker of a topic with restrained emotion.

But it all seems to be in the service of a tidily wrapped present of a plot, all loose ends perfectly paired by the end. And the way the chaos of the Stones resolves into that neat package will have you wondering if everyone's failures in love resolve that way, without rancor or shouting matches or grudges.

Only in the movies.

by Jen Kopf
10 March 2007

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