The Family Stone

             When I saw Thomas Bezucha’s first film, BIG EDEN, I was
     taken aback by its (pardon the pun) fairy tale-like quality. It was
     a wry comedy-drama-romance about a gay man who returns to the
     titular rural town of his youth and encounters nothing but positive
     vibes. Townspeople attempt to fix him up but the hero is still
     enamored of his high school crush, who luck would have it is now
     divorced. Of course, like any good romantic comedy, there’s another
     potential suitor and all ends happily. There was a pleasant quality
     to the movie, and audiences could leave smiling.

             Something similar is at work in Bezucha’s second feature,
THE FAMILY STONE, but this time he’s added a hint of bathos to
     the mix. Being that the movie is set during the Christmas holidays,
     it isn’t entirely out of place. It’s basically a fish-out-of-water tale
     as the tightly-wound Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker,
     light years away from her TV persona) is accompanying her
     businessman boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) to meet his family.
     And what a family! Bohemian may be the closest thing to describe
     them. Mother Sybil (Diane Keaton) is a writer who has raised her
     five children to be independent, but without boundaries. There’s
     an openness that she fosters among her children so that every
     little detail comes to light. Father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) is a
     college professor who has clearly ceded most of the power to his
     wife but who, on occasion, can exhibit protective tendencies to
     rival a lioness. The eldest son is Everett (Mulroney), the golden
     boy whose room is packed with all his trophies and mementos of
     his achievements. Then there is Susanna (Elizabeth Reaser),
     very pregnant with her second child and waiting for her own
     businessman husband to make an appearance.

             Ben (Luke Wilson) is something of the black sheep, a stoner
     who fled the East Coast to live in Berkeley and pursue a career as
     a documentary filmmaker. Thad (Ty Giordano) is not only hearing-
     impaired, but also gay and in a committed relationship with Patrick
     (Brian White). [Each member of the family speaks and signs
     which is a lovely detail in the movie and helps to make one believe
     that this is a real family as opposed to a “movie” one.] Rounding
     out the crew is Amy (Rachel McAdams), the sardonic youngest of
     the family and the only one who had previously met Meredith,
     with predictably negative results. This boisterous clan would be
     enough to intimidate even the most secure person. When poor
     Meredith enters the fray, she immediately senses that they don’t
     like her.

             Meredith’s formality and her uptight behavior is meant
     to serve as a foil for the free-spirited nature of the Stone family.
     Pushed to her limits by their closeness, she heads off to the local
     inn for refuge. She also enlists the aid of her younger sister Julie
     (Claire Danes) who is her polar opposite and to whom the family
     takes an immediate liking.

             Bezucha finds some easy humor in the disjointedness
     between Meredith’s stiffness and the Stone family’s breezy
     camaraderie, but there’s also some truth in his writing. Meredith
     is not a stupid woman and she can see why the family doesn’t
     “get” her and fears that their strong opinions are having an
     influence on how Everett is viewing her. Parker negotiates a
     difficult character with aplomb and when Meredith finally lets her
     hair down (figuratively and literally), Parker demonstrates just
     how good an actress she is. Indeed, the cast is damned near all
     letter-perfect. Nelson and Keaton share a terrific chemistry and
     Wilson and McAdams both offer scene-stealing turns.

             The film’s title has double meaning, as anyone who has seen
     the slightly risqué poster will note. It not only refers to the actual
     members of this oddball family, but also to an heirloom ring that
     Everett has been promised for the woman he loves.

             THE FAMILY STONE is a pleasant diversion from the more
     serious fare released at year’s end and provides a nice, fuzzy
     feeling. Sure, there are some clichés, sure there’s a (not so) secret
     illness, sure there’s some obvious plotting, but overall, the movie
     engenders such good will that one can ignore those flaws. Like
       BIG EDEN, THE FAMILY STONE may only exist in movies, but
     there’s nothing wrong with that.

                     Rating:                     B
                     MPAA Rating:          PG-13 for some sexual content
                                                           including dialogue, and
                                                           drug references
                     Running time:          102 mins.

                             Viewed at the Fox Screening Room        
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.