The Family Stone is a dysfunctional family movie that takes place and culminates over the Christmas holidays. In it, a new member, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is introduced to a group of people already on each other’s nerves. She acts as a catalyst for all of the mayhem that happens over the next few days, although you’ll probably see how she’ll alter everyone for the best in the end. For things to get better, they first have to get worse, or at least, that’s how the saying goes. It’s very true here.
This is an ensemble film, and each of the characters within gets enough time to become an established person. At the head of the household are the eldest, Sybil (Diane Keaton) and her husband, Kelly (Craig T. Nelson). She’s the most dominating personality — the one that everyone is scared of — while he is far more gentle. They have a few children: Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who is Meredith’s boyfriend ; Amy (Rachel McAdams), who has the sole personality trait of hating Everett’s girlfriend for no reason; Thad (Tyrone Giordano), a deaf and gay man whose partner (Brian J. White) is also here for the holidays; Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), a woman who has a child; and Ben (Luke Wilson), a stoner.
Meredith also has a sister, Julie (Claire Danes), who appears in the middle of the film to provide her sister moral support. See, the family starts out hating Meredith for all of her tics and abrasive personality, so she feels the need to have backup to defend her. A clash of families and their values could have been interesting, but that’s not what we end up getting. Many different subplots play out, but very little of the tension in early scenes actually matters after they begin.
The best thing that I can say about The Family Stone is that all of the characters feel quite real, having both positives and negatives making them appear that way. They’re all clichés and stereotypes, but they almost overcome these because of how well they’re portrayed. I say “almost” because I couldn’t get past the feeling that I’ve seen them all before in multiple films over the years.
There’s no emotional involvement on the part of the audience. The film seemed so self-contained that there’s no point trying to feel involved in the proceedings. You can see how it’s all going to go from the outset, and with that predictability, there’s no point in feeling for these characters. They’re all likable and worth of sympathy — even Meredith, who is portrayed as the villain for the first act — but you know their fates before you start to care, and after that, it’s really difficult for the film to make you feel anything.
That’s essential in a film like this one. It’s nothing groundbreaking and even without comparing it to similar films, it’s not terribly good. You need that emotional investment in its characters so that you don’t start looking for flaws or at your watch, and I found myself doing both for most of its running time. It’s fine, I suppose, but if you’re looking for a movie rich in depth, you’ll want to look elsewhere. This is mostly fluff.
Essentially, it’s a harmless Christmastime movie about a family that needs to learn how to get along with other people. If it’ll teach you a little lesson, then I’m sure it’ll be quite pleased with itself. If it makes you laugh a bit, well, that’s a bonus. I don’t think it’ll make you feel any emotion, but maybe you haven’t seen this type of movie before, and maybe you’ll become invested in one of these people. They use broad strokes to paint them in order to relate to as many people as possible, after all.
I’ll admit, The Family Stone made me laugh a couple of times. Most of these come from when Meredith tries to endear herself to the family, fails, and then stumbles upon her own words, grinding herself into the ground until she finally gives up. A game of charades is about the most memorable part for me, if only because of the reactions from the actors as they go through the scene. It’s quite funny, and I can only imagine how much fun they all had while filming it — and most of the movie, for that matter; there isn’t a lot of negativity throughout.
The actors, for the most part, sell their characters. There isn’t a whole lot of depth to most of the performances, with the only really great ones being turned in by Keaton and Nelson. But I believed all of the actors in their roles, and there’s enough complexity to their performances to lend that extra bit of credibility to their characters. I liked watching most of the people in the film — save for Mulroney, who was simply bland — and if they would have been doing something interesting, I would have liked the film a lot more.
The Family Stone is a harmless Christmas movie, but takes no risks and is so predictable that it hampers the ability for the film to make the audience care. I was bored by what happened for most of the middle, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it. The cast members are strong and I would have liked to see them doing something more worthwhile with their time. It might make you laugh a bit and it might teach you a small lesson, but it’s not worth the time it takes to do both of those things.