The Family Stone

A well worn story reheated and served up again, rather like the Christmas turkey.

Released in 2005, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 26 Dec 2005 by Scott Morris
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You know, I think I've seen this film before. It wasn't this cast, but I'll swear I must have seen this before. Either that, or this must be the most generic, cobbled together, clich? laden pap I've seen in a good long time. Ah.

It's Christmas! Not just as I write this, but also for the Stone family as the kids return to the roost with their partners in tow. Oooh, the drama! Most nervous is Everett (Dermot Mulroney)'s new squeeze, the somewhat uptight, driven salarywoman Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) obviously seeking family approval. Oooh, the excitement! She's already incurred the disdain of acerbic family youngest Amy (Rachel McAdams) for non-specific reasons possibly related to a throat clearing nervous tick that is made fun of far more than said tick is evidenced.

Family matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton, who we hope to see in the exciting Untitled Diane Keaton Project before the end of 2005. Um...) doesn't like her, as it turns out, and is refusing to make good on her promise to dole out her grandmother's wedding ring for Everett's usage. This upsets Meredith, while ancillary family members Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), Ben (Luke Wilson), Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and Thad (Tyrone Giordano) spectate from the sidelines.

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Allow me an experiment. Given Fact A, here defined as "Everett and Meredith don't have the white-hot relationship one might expect of a couple considering marriage" and Fact B, here defined as "Meredith is so upset she asks her beautiful, unattached sister Julie (Claire Danes) to visit for moral support" can you envisage Main Story Arc A? If you answered "Everett and Julie hit it off, but handily Meredith and Ben also hit it off to ensure there's no-one left hurt at Christmas time", congratulations! Your grasp of the blindingly obvious is adequate enough to allow you to churn out any number of equally sparse fam-o-dramas! Go forth and write turgid, hackneyed drivel such as this!

Well, that's slightly disparaging. The Family Stone has depth, man. Or, at least, things in it that are an adequate substitute for depth if you squint a bit and hastily gloss over them. Sybil's dying of cancer, and as such gets a bit cranky occasionally. DEPTH! Thad is gay, and deaf. DEPTH! His partner Patrick (Brian J. White) is also gay, obviously, and also black, which isn't DEPTH! unless it's quite crassly and clumsily explored as a plot point. Oh, it is. DEPTH! By now, the word depth has been used so often as to loose all meaning, which is fortunate because if you could remember how it's supposed to apply to characterisation you'd notice that it doesn't apply to anyone in The Family Stone. DEPTH!

From frame one of this film we're 'treated' to predictable, mile wide clich?d family life and arguments that exist only in the myriad, near-as-dammit-identical films of this ilk, plot developments that can be seen from space with the naked eye were the observer somewhere in Andromeda and characters that stagnate more than develop.

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As an aside, Sarah Jessica Parker has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance. I interpret this to mean that it's been a grim year for 'Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy', or that the world is in fact ending and we can all soon look forward to roasting on an open hellfire at the horned one's crib.

Well, that's really disparaging, and only largely accurate. Indeed, for the most part The Family Stone is competently handled, reasonably acted, tolerably paced hackneyed, clich?d claptrap, but the most important aspect of that last overly commaed sentence is the hackneyed, clich?d claptrap part.

Seriously, if you've nothing more pressing to watch amongst what has been admittedly been a rather sparse month for new releases you'd be far better served sitting in with a cup of mulled coco or whatever the hell it is you drink at Christmas and watching the great things that may or, more likely, may not be on the telly. Or doing something equally productive, like nailing jelly to the ceiling.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Thomas Bezucha
Cast list:
Claire Danes (Julie Morton)
Diane Keaton (Sybil Stone)
Rachel McAdams (Amy Stone)
Dermot Mulroney (Everett Stone)
Craig T. Nelson (Kelly Stone)
Sarah Jessica Parker (Meredith Morton)
Luke Wilson (Ben Stone)
Tyrone Giordano (Thad Stone)
Brian J. White (Patrick Thomas)
Elizabeth Reaser (Susannah Stone Trousdale)
Paul Schneider (Brad Stevenson)
Savannah Stehlin (Elizabeth Trousdale)