Runtime: 103 minutes
Writer/Director: Thomas Bezucha
Starring: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Brian White, Elizabeth Reaser, Paul Schneider
By Morgan Roberts
The holidays bring out the best and worst in people. In this family dramedy, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing home his girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) for the first time. Meredith is the opposite of the Stone family: calculated, literal, inflexible, rigid. Matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) is not too pleased to have Meredith joining this year’s Christmas festivities. What ensues is an outrageous holiday for all involved.
When “The Family Stone” (2005) was released, it was marketed as a family holiday comedy, one full of hijinks and clashes. But what audiences found was a more profound holiday film, that became a bit more heavy for viewers. I think that’s why I enjoy “The Family Stone” so much. It’s not a quirky little Christmas movie, but one about impending grief and what we do to preserve moments we cherish. If you have not seen “The Family Stone,” I do warn you, there are a few spoilers in here. So, proceed with caution.
We find the Stone family at a precipice. Sybil is sick, dying, in fact, of breast cancer. This holiday seems to be perceived as her last. Which is why having uptight, insecure Meredith barging in feels like a slight by her oldest son. What the film does so well is gives you hints at each of the siblings’ attempts to process their mother’s illness and prepare for her death. Oldest daughter, Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), seems to be the most level-headed of them all. It makes sense. She has her own growing family to care for. She seems to be taking the best parts of her mother and putting them into her own parenting. There is a scene, later on in the film, where she is stroking her sleeping sister’s hair, and you get the sense that she is a maternal presence for her siblings.
Thad (Tyrone Giordano) seems to be following Susannah. He and his partner Patrick (Brian White) are quietly making steps for their future. Thad seems so well supported and loved by Patrick, that even if there is grief there, Thad has a better outlet for it. Ben (Luke Wilson), on the other hand, is flailing. That’s not unusual for him. But the happy-go-lucky persona is striped away during a heart-to-heart with his dad, Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), as the pair get stoned on the school bleachers. Everett (Mulroney) is attempting to create a life, albeit a bit rushed, with a woman he sees as perfect for him. His mother fights him along the way, and you can tell all he wants to do is show her and his father that he’s going to be okay, be established, despite having an impressive career.
But the sibling struggling the hardest is the youngest Stone child, Amy (Rachel McAdams). If you listen to the DVD commentary and devour all of the featurettes, you learn that Amy came back home to help care for her mother when she became sick initially. Amy is preparing to lose a parent much sooner than all of her siblings, and she even attempted to aid their sick mother but failed. Amy is a whole damn mood, though. She speaks her mind. She is snarky. And she leans into her youngest sister duties, giving everyone a hard time. I do wish they had included Amy’s past with caring for her mother more in the film, as I think it gives so many layers to the characters.
The Stone sibling dynamics are fascinating. Watching grown-ups deal with illness and grief and the fear of what life will be like after loss is rarely seen in film. And their dynamics are contrasted with Meredith (Parker) and her sister, Julie (Claire Danes). Meredith and Julie are polar opposites yet somehow understand each other intrinsically. They have a simple conversation and know how to fill in the gaps without ever having to say an additional word. Julie’s presence adds a dynamic because, before coming to the Stones’ house, only Everett knew Meredith and her quirks and intentions. On top of it, Everett has to balance his family and Meredith where Julie can be an advocate for her sister without feeling obligation elsewhere.
“The Family Stone” is a rare gem of a holiday film. I remember when the film came out, many people complained about how awful all of the characters. On the surface, they can be. But, when you take the time to dissect each of the characters and their intentions, you begin to understand their behaviors. The film is a true character study and one that, no matter the time of year, I can sit down and enjoy.