The Family Stone
December 7, 2005
The Family Stone (2005) belongs to the eccentric family comedy sub-genre where a straight-laced protagonist that the audience can identify with meets a clan of lovable oddballs usually in the context of a holiday setting (see Home for the Holidays, Pieces of April, Meet the Parents, etc.). Most of the humour is derived from the clash between these two polar opposites with a little something for everyone.
It’s the Friday before Christmas and busy executive Meredith Morton (Parker) is going to meet her boyfriend Everett’s (Mulroney) family. There’s the deaf gay son (Tyrone Giordano) and his boyfriend (Brian White); Amy (McAdams), the rebellious daughter who isn’t afraid to speak her mind; the other daughter (Reaser) and her child; the free-spirited mother (Keaton); the loving father (Nelson); and Ben, the laidback brother (Wilson). Meredith is an uptight conservative type who clashes with the warm, touchy feely Stone family. She has an icy air to her that you just know this family will thaw out. This is a tight family and she’s the outsider. There’s a palpable tension between her and them – especially between Meredith and Amy who doesn’t like her right from the get-go (something about hating Meredith’s habit of clearing her throat).
They don’t really give Meredith much of a chance and never make her feel all that welcome except for Ben. And so, she ends up staying at a local inn and calling her sister, Julie (Danes) to come join her because the Stone family has treated her so badly. It actually becomes some kind of crazy endurance test for her and for us as the first 20 minutes presents them as a cruel bunch of people just because Meredith is an outsider. Why should we get to know these people when they don’t bother to get to know Meredith?
She even makes an effort to contribute by making a Christmas breakfast. As the film progresses, the source of the antagonism becomes apparent, stemming from bad blood between Everett and his mother. Unfortunately, her subplot is too big for The Family Stone and ends up being treated in a trifle manner which is only another insult that this film heaps on its suffering audience.
Game for more humiliation? Once Julie arrives and is introduced to the family, guess what? They take an instant shine to her and continue to snub Meredith! And to add insult to injury, Julie eats up all their attention, doesn’t support her sister at all and even flirts with Everett. Just when you think that this film can’t get any more mean-spirited it tops itself. Just as we’ve begun to sympathize with Meredith she reveals an ugly homophobic streak in a really uncomfortable moment effectively ruining what had been a scene that started to humanize this misanthropic family. If you thought the first 20 minutes were unbearable, the next 20 are even worse.
The Family Stone is filled with morally repellant characters that you grow to hate. Every time someone says or does something nice it is immediately negated by an act of cruelty. The film is a deceptive wolf in sheep’s clothing as the warm, inviting look is subverted by this nasty family. And that is The Family Stone’s worst sin – its deceptive nature. The outer packaging and blurbs promise a warm, light-hearted romp and instead we get the cinematic equivalent of a lump of coal.
There is an audio commentary by actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney. They recount little anecdotes about specific scenes although they fail to address the film’s mean-spiritedness. Mulroney has a pretty funny, dry sense of humour that Parker plays well off of. The two of them joke around with each other making this track infinitely more enjoyable than watching the film itself.
Also included is an additional commentary by writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. They talk about technical details like the colour palette of the movie. Bezucha admits that he didn’t successfully articulate the loving relationship between Everett and Meredith. The tone of this track tends to be a little too much on the self-congratulatory side.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session” takes a brief look the casting process for this movie. The first incarnation (the final film is the third one) of the film was shut down two weeks before shooting with a completely different cast due to lack of funding. The filmmakers decided to pursue Diane Keaton first and after getting her everybody else jumped on board.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents World Premier” features red carpet interviews with the cast and crew who gush about each other and the movie.
“Q&A with Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Theater.” The actors talk about how the screenplay attracted them to the project. The highlight is Luke Wilson telling some really funny stories in what turns out to be the most entertaining extra on the disc.
“Behind the Scenes” is a standard making of featurette with the cast talking about the notion of family and the dynamic between its various members.
There is a “Gag Reel” that features many flubbed lines by the cast who end cracking each other up in this amusing extra.
Also included are six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Bezucha and Ford. Most of this footage was deemed “unnecessary” in the grand scheme of things and was taken out. Bezucha and Ford lament cutting down performances that they enjoyed so much.
Finally, there is “Meredith’s Strata: ‘A Morton Family Tradition’” that gives the recipe for the dish that Meredith so carefully prepared in the movie only to have it end up all over herself.