Today Hollywood films can easily be classified into easy-to-digest genres: comedy, action, romance, chick flick, slasher horror, Uwe Boll bomb. Genres make it simple to set expectations and often we gauge our like or dislike for the movie based on how it stacks up with others in its grocery isle. Perhaps it’s unfair to classify them so simplistically but at the same time it’s natural to compare and contrast. What’s so refreshing about Thomas Bezucha’s The Family Stone is how it plays off of genre expectations and effortlessly switches back and forth between comedy, romance and tragedy. Plus it’s framed as a holiday movie to boot.
Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his serious girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays to meet his family for the first time. Sounds familiar so far. Meredith is an uptight cosmopolitan girl from New York while the Stones are anything but. They’re a tight-knit bunch who all know each other well, joke around and have an obvious deep love despite their constant bickering. Everett wants his family’s blessing to marry Meredith, the Stones want him to leave her in New York. The Stones and Meredith get off to a rocky start, which in turn leads to Meredith calling her sister Julie (Claire Danes) into town for backup. Amid the happy chaos of the entire family coming into town, family matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) is keeping a secret that would shatter the festive spirit.
I’m convinced that Bezucha wants you to hate the first 30 minutes or so of the film. I got bored as the “meet the family” clichés were coming at all the right times, characters were mere sketches and the situations were all horribly predictable. But with one revelation, the whole thing changed. The Family Stone went from something light and fluffy into something a little deeper. It was from this point on that the film finally became memorable.
The Family Stone always finds itself in some sort of genre. There is no point where it isn’t. However, I was amazed at how easily Bezucha switches between them. There are multiple times where the mood is flipped mid-sentence. In my mind, this made the film much more authentic. With a large ensemble cast, not everyone’s going to be on the same page. Everyone’s got a sad spot in their heart and Bezucha actively explores these areas.
Mixing comedy, romance and tragedy has the potential to be a recipe for soap opera melodramatics. The Family Stone steers clear on all accounts. It’s honest and there’s always a good piece of comedy when the script comes close to a Full House moment of life lessons learned complete with a background violin.
The biggest issue I had with the film was how predictable it was. I had a lot of the final things pegged within seconds of the first foreshadowing. On the one hand, it’s good because clues are given and the sheet isn’t pulled instantly. However, when you know exactly where it’s going, it does make the film a little more simplistic than it ought to be. With such a big cast, there was no shortage of conflict. However all of the characters avoid wrestling with their hearts. We know what the best choice is instantly and so do they. If The Family Stone could have used anything, it would have been making those choices harder, make the other side of the coin worth fighting for.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to find The Family Stone to rank amongst the better holiday offerings that require a visit every other December. Especially after the first half hour. But with its honesty, warmth and genre navigation, it does manage to achieve just that.
The Family Stone Gallery
The Family Stone Trailer