Monday, May 15, 2006

The Family Stone (DVD)

One of the surprise films of 2005, The Family Stone successfully navigates the often tempestuous waters of big screen family dramas. Quite often these types of family relationship films get lost in a deluge of dialogue, conflict, and argument. And although The Family Stone has plenty of the aforementioned, it hits the audience in manageable doses with well-placed comic relief and an unforgettable cast of eccentric characters. Written and directed by up-and-coming Hollywood talent Thomas Bezucha, the film is a mosaic of fun, laughter, sadness, and family relationships most people will find charming and endearing…

The Family Stone examines the vibrant relationships of the Stone family, a close-knit traditional nuclear family gathering for the holidays. Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) and her husband Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) host their children for the holidays, but as with most families, conflict is abundant. Sarcasm, backstabbing, blame, and jealousy are evident in almost every encounter, but ironically, so are love and respect. When eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his current girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet the family, her business-like demeanor and uptight mannerisms clash with the rest of the family, particularly Everett’s vindictive sister Amy (Rachel McAdams). Despite Meredith’s best efforts, the only family member she can impress is Everett’s laidback brother Ben (Luke Wilson).

Meredith’s discomfort is compounded when she inadvertently makes a bigoted remark about Everett’s homosexual brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano), garnering the wrath of the entire family. Pushed to her breaking point, Meredith moves from the house to a nearby bed and breakfast, while Everett struggles with the idea of proposing to a woman his family obviously dislikes. Meanwhile, Ben helps Meredith to come out of her shell, and Meredith enlists the support of her younger sister Julie (Claire Danes) to smooth things over with the Stones. But the holidays take an interesting twist when unexpected relationships blossom and an unforeseen event takes its toll on the entire family…

The Family Stone certainly succeeds in creating a number of dynamic multidimensional characters, but it fails in a couple respects. The most obvious is the relationship switch that eventually takes place and is quite evidently in the making from the opening scenes of the film. One brother stealing another’s girlfriend is not in-and-of itself unbelievable, but the continuation of a normal relationship between the two brothers is. No awkwardness there? No jealousy? Plot twists are great, but keep them realistic…

The other aspect of The Family Stone that stands out is a bit more peripheral and makes the film teeter on the precipice of Hollywood cliché. Meredith is portrayed as an uptight homophobic bigot in need of a cure, while the Stone family is free-spirited and in touch with their feelings. In the end, Meredith grows because of her proximity to the Stones, but the Stones don’t learn anything from Meredith. It’s probably not a coincidence that Meredith’s views might be construed as conservative, while the Stones’ views are considered liberal (i.e. conservative evil, liberal good). This same theme was prevalent in Meet The Fockers when Robert De Niro’s character learns the error of his uptight ways and engages in the hippie lifestyle of his daughter’s new in-laws. But, of course, the Fockers never learn anything from De Niro… Not necessarily a movie killer, but a cliché nonetheless. Despite the flaws, The Family Stone is still a decent film. Above par dialogue and outstanding performances by a strong cast make it time well spent. Many moments will make you laugh; others will remind you of your own family…

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