The Family Stone
2005Director: Thomas Bezucha
Cast: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Sarah-Jessica Parker
n theaters near me, the only playing film not yet covered by the Stylus staff is The Family Stone. A sad testament to the wretched fare available in the post-holiday multiplexes, this movie proved itself unrelentingly awful. A deadly combination of cliché, under-developed plot machinations, maudlin sentimentality, and guilty-liberal politics, The Family Stone begs to be forgotten. Unfortunately, this is the review I must write. Further reflection shall doubtlessly lead to naming this movie among the worst of the year, and I can only pray that our readers have already avoided the experience.
Dealing with the tired premise of a prospective bride meeting her partner’s family, The Family Stone presents a wholly unattractive group of people. Uptight business woman Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) assaults the audience with tics of repression and unbearably awkward moments that only leave us hoping that she'll somehow grasp happiness and leave us in peace. Meredith has zero chemistry with her boyfriend, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney); the couple shares zero happy moments. Everett and Meredith travel to the hostile Stone residence and encounter various dull or bitchy family members. Presiding over all is the shrewish and manipulative Sybil—a woman whose only redeeming qualities are a) she is Diane Keaton and b) she has a tragic secret. The family mercilessly rips into the unhappy Meredith, and, thus, the plot unfolds.
Notably different from the other Stones, a gay, interracial, hearing-impaired couple best characterizes the film’s pseudo-liberal aspirations. Existing in a world of screaming white-bread harpies, these two men display virtuous behavior while placidly accepting any disability hurtled toward them and successfully leading bland and peaceful lives. Not only are these characters spared any troubling manifestations of personality—tokenism at its finest—but they also seem idiotically surprised when treated with anything less than the utmost sensitivity. When Meredith begins to speak loudly to Thad (why on earth would a woman as cultured and educated as Meredith scream at a deaf person?), he asks his sister why Meredith is yelling. Surely, Thad understands that everybody may not instantaneously achieve his family’s level of comfort and break into functional sign language?
OK, let’s be honest. How many of us here owed Thomas Bezucha a favor?
The treatment of sexual orientation is even more embarrassing. After Meredith accidentally launches into subtly anti-gay rhetoric, and, then, desperately tries to justify her position by wondering why parents wouldn’t want the easiest life possible for their children, the family melts into tears and fury. Meredith’s behavior is ignorant, to be sure, but the family leaps down her throat as if she had just recommended a return to black slavery. Sybil, choking and sobbing, informs her son that he is indeed normal. As a gay man, I naturally find homophobic behavior—however unintended—reprehensible. Nevertheless, I understand the attitudes prevalent in our culture and I am not reduced to a quivering mass in need of validation every time someone does not fully understand my perspective.
By providing no romantic back-story and by repeatedly commenting upon the lack of love between Meredith and Everett, the script successfully convinces us that the two are probably badly suited for one other. Luckily, Everett’s stoner brother, Ben (Luke Wilson), and Meredith’s ambitious sister, Julie (Claire Danes), seem perfect complements to Meredith and Everett, respectively. The inevitable partner swap is clumsily under-developed, as is the breakthrough moment where warring family factions dissolve into Christmas cheer. The moral of this mess, being: Never underestimate the power of a food-fight set to the Nutcracker Suite.