Perhaps you may want to label me a “Grinch” or a “Scrooge” but it’s that time of year again – the holiday season – a time I despise like no other. Not only do we have to deal with everyone from all over transforming themselves into these happy little people, complete with obnoxiously piercing voices and smiles, we have to deal with a couple movies a year that take place during this time period. And these films love to throw outbursts of sentiment our way whenever they get a chance. “The Family Stone” is no different… kind of.
Sarah Jessica Parker (in her first mainstream post-“Sex and the City” role) plays Meredith, an uptight city girl heading to the country to hang out with her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) and his eclectic family. Like Gaylord Focker before her, nothing she does or says turns out the way she plans it and the family ends up hating her, all except Ben (Luke Wilson), the stoner of the family. Finally, after about the fifteenth mishap, she begs her sister Julie (Claire Daines) to come and keep her company.
You can only imagine what happens from here, as Meredith and Everett begin to discover their true feelings towards each other. But instead of simply being another cookie-cutter operation (with characters that is), writer/director Thomas Bezucha adds something into the mix you don’t quite see too often these days. The way he subtly deals with homosexuality immersed in what society considers “a normal family” without overly focusing on it to make spectacle of it is an achievement in its own right. It’s a positive message so rarely seen on screen that many religious fanatics and ignorant politicians may want to try and take notice of.
At times, the film comes off as a little too heart tugging for the average male audience member to handle but not all is unbearable. Luke Wilson has done some of his best work in dramatic roles (see “The Royal Tenenbaums” for clarity) and while he is not playing an entirely serious role here, his performance is still the most engaging. The film’s best scene takes place between Luke Wilson and Craig T. Nelson as they sit in a high school football stadium smoking a bowl. Instead of doing something comedic, the father and son discuss a serious health problem with one of the family members that will no doubt be fatal. With the assistance of little dialogue and almost no dramatic score, the actors prove their worth by performing the distressing emotions almost brilliantly.
Like most of these family get-together films, it’s not quirky enough to be interesting or amusing enough to be funny. The drama sometimes weighs as much as mom’s fruitcake. This is the type of film you should take your mother to, should the marathon of “A Christmas Story” bore her to death. You might, however, want to keep dad at home or let him see Kong instead.