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flick pick | The Family Stone 2005
Starring: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama, comedy
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  feel-good
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis It’s Christmastime and the Stone family have begun to gather at Mom and Dad’s picture-perfect small-town New England home. They’re the sort of close-knit family whose get-togethers are chock full of inside jokes and shared reminiscences about each other’s most embarrassing moments; they’re loud and outspoken and eccentric, and though they tease one another like crazy there’s no doubt how much they love one another. All of which is cozy and great … unless you happen to be outside the little Stone family circle of affection. When oldest son Everett brings home his new fiancée, Meredith, it’s a disaster from the get-go. Little sister Amy is the only one who’s already met Meredith, and what she’s told the family about her brother’s uptight businesswoman fiancée isn’t pretty. When Meredith shows up with pursed smile and hair pulled into so severe a bun that it hurts just to look at her, she looks every bit the uppity nightmare that Amy’s described. When she opens her mouth, things only get worse, as it’s clear her conservative values clash radically with the Stone family’s very liberal views. Sister Susannah and brother Thad mostly ignore Meredith’s inadvertently offensive remarks; Dad Kelly does his best to give Meredith a chance. But family matriarch Sybil is only one step above snarky Amy on the grand scale of warm welcomes: she finds Meredith shallow, insecure and close-minded, and is devastated that this is the woman her beloved eldest wants to gift with Grandma’s heirloom wedding ring. Only Everett’s slacker younger brother Ben warms to Meredith’s strange, cold ways, and even he thinks the idea of Everett and Meredith getting married is nuts. In the face of all this, poor Meredith tries to be polite -- in her own awkward way – but the harder she tries, the worse she comes off. Soon, she’s moved into a nearby hotel -- and begged her sister Julie to come join her at the Stone family Christmas gathering from hell.

Review The Family Stone was basically marketed as a feel-good romantic comedy when it came out – which, I suppose, it is, if your notion of finding true love involves swapping one sibling for another (seriously, this is not spoiling anything: anyone who’s every seen a movie will see that one coming a mile away) and your idea of funny involves lots of cringing at people saying really kinda sorta awful things to each other. Me, I happen to like a lot of movies featuring not-terribly-nice folks, but I can imagine that if you rented this flick expecting While You Were Sleepless You Got Mail, you’d be rather appalled. This is more an offbeat family drama than a sweet chick flick, and where it works best is when it shows the family just being itself -- which, in the this case, is loving and funny and open, yes, but also kind of mean and judgmental towards people who aren’t liberals like themselves. The movie isn’t without problems: the plot line’s formulaic, and the sappy soundtrack sounds like the same one that’s been used in every heartwarming holiday family flick since film began. But there an awful lot of nice details too, like the total non-issue that’s made of brother Thad’s deafness (the whole family just signs naturally whenever they talk, and not just when they’re talking to Thad), Ben’s weirdly lovely, offhand non-sequitur to Meredith about a dream he’s had about her (no, not that kind of dream – ah, how I adore Luke Wilson, whose understated performances always strike this irresistible balance of goofy and sad), and the private moments between Diane Keaton’s Sybil and Craig T. Nelson’s Kelly. Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker, doing a 180º from her Sex and the City persona, manages to do a terrific job making Meredith seem both absolutely awful and sympathetic. The Family Stone isn’t a brilliant movie by any stretch, but there are enough of the small, pleasant surprises that it manages to stand out from the usual ho-hum, saccharine holiday movie fare. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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