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Moss grows fat on ‘The Family Stone’

Observer Scene | Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Every year, theaters are flooded with holiday films that emphasize the importance of family. “The Family Stone,” which, like its predecessors, is both comedic and bittersweet, is a contemporary take on this American staple. Although the thoroughly modern family dynamic and the subtle manner in which the film deals with serious family issues are unique and worthy of note, overall the film is unremarkable.

On the surface, “The Family Stone” is reminiscent of “Meet the Parents.” Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), an up-tight executive, travels to boyfriend Everett’s (Dermot Mulroney) idyllic childhood home to celebrate Christmas with his family. Although the Stone family welcomes her, it is very clear that they do not like her. Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton), Everett’s mother, is particularly resistant to Everett’s plans to present Meredith with the family wedding ring. This seemingly light film departs from the comedic genre with its somber undertones, which become increasingly apparent throughout the course of the movie.

The script has a few schmaltzy lines, but for the most part, it avoids the saccharine sentimentality that runs rampant in other films of the romantic-comedy/family-drama variety. The Stones are fairly convincing as a real family with real problems, and the cast conveys a sense of familial cohesiveness.

The family’s modern dynamic is particularly evident in a scene in which the homosexuality and deafness of the youngest son become a topic of conversation at the dinner table. Although perhaps a bit overdone, the acknowledgement of the diversity in today’s world adds interest to the film. Also, the understated scenes in which no words are spoken quietly inform the audience that all is not right with the Stones. Unfortunately, unimpressive performances and weak writing overwhelm these strengths.

While Sarah Jessica Parker is generally a strong comedic actress, in this role, she is downright irritating. Meredith is obviously “quirky,” but while writer/director Thomas Bezucha intends for this quirkiness to be endearing, Parker never transcends her character’s annoying traits.

Whether this is a result of poor writing or poor acting is difficult to say – most likely it is a result of both. The same can be said for the character of Everett Stone. Though the movie attempts to raise audience sympathy for his confused and introspective character, Mulroney instead comes across as whiny and a bit immature.

The two strongest performances are given by Diane Keaton as Sybil Stone and Rachel McAdams as youngest daughter Amy. This mother-daughter pair particularly dislikes Meredith, and although they are merciless in their treatment of her, both Sybil and Amy are extremely likable. The audience gets the sense that they behave badly not because they are catty by nature, but rather because they care about Everett. Both actresses are skilled at balancing their cutting remarks with genuine expressions of concern for Everett’s well being.

The plot becomes somewhat ridiculous when Meredith convinces her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to join her for support. Chaos ensues, and a supposedly surprising, yet tiresomely predictable swapping of partners takes place. This plot development reveals a major weakness in the film – the romantic relationships between the characters are not believable. Not only do the actors lack chemistry, but the writing in most of the romantic scenes sounds as though it were stolen from a bad episode of “Dawson’s Creek.”

Unfortunately, the film’s redeeming qualities cannot save it from the destructive influence of its other much weaker elements. “The Family Stone” has its moments, but more often than not audiences will find themselves hoping for more.