Written by: Ron Bricker
Everyone has that film. You absolutely despise it, you want your whole body to hate it and yet…you find yourself watching it over and over and over again searching for meaning. Well for me, that film is The Family Stone.
It all started out very promising. With a cast of characters played by Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Luke Wilson (Old School), Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding), Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet) and Major Dad…I mean Craig T. Nelson how could it be bad? Let’s investigate…
The film opens with SJP’s character Meredith Morton on the phone making demanding corporate deals in a department store as her boyfriend, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney), shops for Christmas gifts for his family. As Meredith barks on the phone to her co-workers, she also barks at Everett because he doesn’t know how to pick out a scarf for his sister Amy (Rachel McAdams). We then learn that Meredith thinks that Everett’s sister hates her, and she’s nervous about meeting his family. He assures her that they’ll love her. Cut to the opening credits.
Ok, not bad. We got our little set up. Meredith is a total control freak/snob and it’s obvious that the family will give her a hard time. Fine, we know what tailor-made storyline we are dealing with here. The moment we are taken into the Stone’s house, we see that they are very eclectic…and dare I say too liberal? Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Here’s a quick breakdown of Everett’s family:
-Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton): Mother-In-Law from hell. She always needs fresh coffee in the pot, sulks in her bathrobe, and scares the shit out of Meredith with her “easy going” and yet so incredibly judgmental heart.
-Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson): Sybil’s adoring husband, Everett’s father. He doesn’t wear the pants in the family. I mean, technically with Diane Keaton as your wife you are destined to not wear any pants of any kind.
-Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams): Everett’s sister. She hates Meredith just because. She never really gives a reason as to why she hates her, she just does. Maybe because she clears her throat too much? Very mature for a Kindergarten teacher isn’t she?
-Ben Stone (Luke Wilson): Everett’s brother. This character is probably one of the reasons why I can sit through 103 minutes of pure holiday torture over and over again. He’s hysterical in every scene, and brings some light to the end of this stone tunnel.
-Thad Stone (Tyrone Giordano, A Lot Like Love): Everett’s Brother. Actually, Everett’s deaf brother whose lover is an African American male. Again, nothing wrong with that. Just painting the picture for you. Everyone loves a Da Vinci.
-Susannah Stone Trousdale (Elizabeth Reaser, Grey’s Anatomy): Everett’s Sister. She has a young daughter named Elizabeth and is pregnant. She mopes around because her husband is working. Kind of a throwaway character if you ask me.
There are some other people who come and go, like Everett’s niece Elizabeth who breaks Meredith’s shoes, and some dude named Brad who popped Amy’s cherry in high school…whatever.
Before Meredith even walks into the house, the judgments have already been made about how horrible she is. It’s very tough to know why they would think so poorly of her. So she’s uptight and conservative, and won’t sleep in the same room as Everett in his parent’s home…who cares!
Meredith’s nerves then run ramped because she has Amy glaring and staring and making snide remarks every time she blinks, accusing her of being a bigot, and Sybil just keeps her nose in the air the whole time at Meredith’s squeaky clean persona, and wonders (to Everett’s face) why he is even with her.
Ah yes, this brings us to the irony in the title. Everett wants the family ring to propose to Meredith. The Family “Stone”…get it? Aren’t the writer’s clever? Sybil freaks out and basically uses the excuse that she’s dying of cancer to convince Everett that Meredith is not right for him. Way to be mom!
As Meredith continues to be grunted at by Amy, she then attempts to cook for the family by making egg strada for Christmas morning…a family tradition of hers. Instead of being praised for her generosity she is mocked by the group. One thing that drives me crazy about this scene is that Thad’s lover Patrick is helping her cook. And then, after it’s all done he’s like… “Are those mushrooms? Ben is allergic to them.” What possessed him to JUST bring that up? Now she feels like an even bigger douchebag than she did before!
Meredith is now at her wits end and decides to call her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come be her saving grace. Everett decides to pick her up from the bus stop. Now, when Julie comes off the bus she takes one look at Everett as if he was this great one night stand she had years ago and he’s now back in her life. But that’s not the case. They just fall in love as she gets off the bus and that’s that. Oh, and she falls down the steps, face first into the pavement. Is Dermot Mulroney really so hot that he would make a girl fall off a damn bus? I mean, Gerard Butler would probably do that to me, but not Mulroney. To each his own I guess.
The moment Julie gets to The Stones' house everyone just adores her. They are fawning all over her, helping her get settled and tending to her wounds from falling off the bus like an idiot. Meredith immediately takes her sister into a private place to talk and the jealousy ensues: “Well, they certainly love you.” But why would they? They hardly know this girl AND she’s the sister of someone they all despise. Makes no sense. They just hate Meredith because that is the catch in the story’s plot and nothing more. Why couldn’t they have made Meredith this crazy radical politician who wants to go to war with Switzerland and who eats babies? Nope, she’s just a snob who wears her hair in a tight bun. STONE HER!
And what ensemble holiday film would be complete without the outrageously uncomfortable dinner scene? Everyone sits down to a lovely meal, Sybil tries to set up Julie with Ben, and a conversation gets going about Thad and Patrick adopting a child. Insert Awkward Pause Here. Meredith then starts to debate in a friendly way that it might not be in the child’s best interest. Insert Another Awkward Pause Here. And as Meredith insists it’s not a good idea everyone basically reaches across the table to rip her trachea out. Everett doesn’t even defend her, so she runs out of the house, gets in the car, and then crashes it in a tree. Now this is a Christmas dinner I wish I witnessed in person! Mine normally just involves snarky comments about the stuffing and drunk people watching It’s A Wonderful Life and wondering why their life is not so wonderful.
What a train wreck this film is now! Ben goes to console Meredith while Everett just hides in his room because he doesn’t want to hear it from his mother. So Ben takes Meredith to a bar and she gets tanked. I can’t say anything against that because that’s probably what I’d do if I were in her situation. Get shit-faced today, worry about it with a hangover tomorrow. As Meredith gets even more wasted, she bitches and moans about the family hating her, so she ends up smoking a doob with Ben and crashes in his bed…half nekkid.
While Meredith gets into trouble, Everett goes for a walk with Julie and basically falls in love with her, as does she with him. Does love at first site really happen like that these days? You bring your girlfriend home for Christmas, want to marry her, then you meet her sister and decide to switch?
The next morning everyone has his or her skeletons in the closet and Everett gets the ring from his mother…finally! But, instead of finding Meredith he decides to put the ring on Julie’s finger to oh, try it on for size maybe? What possessed him to do that? Meredith finally makes an appearance and once again hoards Julie into a private room to look at the ring and to tell her about Ben.
So now that everyone has already had a crazy Christmas morning, it’s time to open presents! Meredith, conservative ice-cold Meredith, got everyone in the family a gift: A beautifully framed photograph of Sybil when she was pregnant with Amy. Awwww, we like you now! So, we think the film will end on a happy note but Meredith then reveals that she slept with Ben to the entire family (but she didn’t) and she goes running off to the kitchen to cry in the breakfast she made. As Everett chases Ben around the house, Sybil and Amy run to Meredith to calm her down. Instead, they slam the kitchen door into her and the breakfast goes all over her. So they all laugh hysterically at her. Everett and Ben come crashing through the kitchen and basically destroy the place. Ben then says, “You don’t even love her,” in front of everyone. Merry Christmas Meredith, I love your sister, not you.
Cut to everyone now enjoying their Christmas for some reason. Meredith is lying on Ben’s bed humming Christmas songs. Again, does this really happen? Do people just sibling swap for kicks? On Christmas?
Cut to a year later…. Sybil is dead. Meredith is with Ben, Everett is with Julie, Thad and Patrick have a baby, and Amy is with the guy she lost her virginity to. They all gather around the tree and look up at the framed picture of Sybil…. the one that Meredith gave them. What does that mean? What’s the point? Don’t judge a book by its cover? Why did this film even take place on Christmas? Is it about finding the true meaning of Christmas? Who knows…I’ve watched it thirty times and I still don’t know.
I was pretty harsh on this film wasn’t I? So you must be wondering why I watch it all the time, since that was my opening statement. The answer is: I have no idea! The only reason that I can even muster is that The Family Stone is like a big catastrophic car wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s predictable, has poor dialogue, forced emotions, and a great cast. Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Kwanzaa! Never make an egg strada for your in-laws; it’ll just end up all over you.