Thursday, 20 September 2007
THE FAMILY STONE
The Family Stone (2005) dir. Thomas Bezucha
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams
What the hell am I reviewing a Christmas film in September? I don’t know, but it was on TV, and I watched it. In fact, I saw it in the theatre when it was released and it still holds up as a fine Christmas film even after two viewings. It’s the classic situation – stuck-up conservative urban woman visits the liberal small town family of her boyfriend. Politics and cultures clash and then they ultimately make up and find mutual ground amid the joy of the holiday season. That’s only the tip of the iceberg though, there’s lot of surprises I couldn’t see coming, not to mention some razor-sharp and complex dialogue exchanges between the characters. It’s a quality film.
Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) are a New York City power couple who travel to Everett’s upstate New York family home to spend their holidays. When Meredith arrives, Everett’s parents, Kelly and Sibyl (Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton) and their full house of grown children gather around the window to watch and judge her every movement. The rumours of her conservative uptightness are confirmed when she steps out wearing high heels and carrying designer luggage. The main antagonizer is Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams). She is relentless in giving Meredith a hard time. A difficult and embarrassing game of charades results in the first major outburst from Meredith. She’s so upset she calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to help her through the weekend.
When Everett announces to his family he wants to propose to Meredith suddenly a line is drawn in the sand and ultimatums are fired. No one thinks Meredith and Everett are right for each other and we suspect not even Everett himself, who may be proposing just to spite his disapproving mother. Over the course of the weekend they grow apart, new loves flourish, and life-changing news is revealed resulting in several twists of plot and character.
Sophomore writer/Director Thomas Bezucha has attracted a large pool of relatively expensive talent on the strength of a tight script, great dialogue and many well-drawn characters. He juggles half a dozen plotlines with ease and uses clever transitions between scenes. He often ends a scene on a question from one character, which is answered by another character in the next scene. It’s probably been done before, but it’s particularly effective in this film. Bezucha crafts some wicked group dialogue scenes as well – the charades scene as noted, but also the dinner scene where the subject of Sybil’s gay son is brought up. Meredith doesn’t disapprove of same-sex marriage, but she manages to dig herself a deep deep grave with a series of unintentional bigoted remarks. The editing and direction of the actors in the scene is impressive, especially for a sophomore.
In the third act, when relationships change and new love blossoms, the film dives into some substandard slaptickism, which doesn’t work considering the intelligence and tone of the first half of the film. But it’s the characters and their individual stories that keep our interest to the end. Casting is also king here as the quality supporting performances are supplied by Claire Danes, Paul Schneider and Brian White.
I’ll re-post this at Christmas to remind you of this decent rental to get you in the holiday mood. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Family Stone (Widescreen Edition)