The Family Stone (PG-13)
Carmike Stadium 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
Borrowing every device from its many predecessors in the screwball romance/heart-tugger/family reunion genre (Terms of Endearment, Home for the Holidays, Safe Passage, etc.), The Family Stone is a free-for-all, celebrity-studded Grinch of a holiday movie.
We are supposed to walk away from Thomas Bezucha's film feeling warmed by its two central messages: Love makes the world go 'round, and follow your bliss. Instead, we walk out of the theater feeling faintly bemused, slightly used and vaguely entertained.
The family Stone is from Somewhere Quaint and Beautiful, New England, USA. It's headed by warm and fuzzy dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), a professor of something or other, and acerbic and dippy mom Sybil (Diane Keaton), who keeps a charmingly cluttered house and dotes on her adult children:
Amy (Rachel McAdams), a sour, shrewish schoolteacher; Susannah (an actress I cannot credit because her name does not appear on the film's Web site or in any cast list), a glowing Madonna who's bestowed upon the Stones their first grandchild and has another on the way; Ben (Luke Wilson), stoned and sweet, a documentary film editor from California; Thad (Tyrone Giordano), the deaf and gay son who spends his preternaturally orderly life with tidy African-American partner Patrick; and Everett (Dermot Mulroney), the square son who cuts international business deals for a living but hasn't yet found happiness.
Everett arrives home for Christmas with uptight New Yorker Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) on his arm, planning to propose marriage to her, but the Stones have other plans.
Sister Amy hates Meredith already, and infects the rest of the family with her opinion. Sybil will have nothing to do with her son's chosen, and Kelly and Ben, a little mystified by the uproar, retreat to the neighborhood football stadium to smoke pot and eat brownies. Everett gets stiffer and angrier by the second.
Things warm up when glowing Claire Danes, playing Meredith's sister Julie, arrives by bus to smooth things over. Romantic entanglements ensue, and the rest of the film is something of a bobsled race to resolution. Will the children finally talk about Mom's secret? Will Meredith be banished, or will she find a way to endear herself to the Stones? Will Everett find his bliss? Will Amy relinquish the stick up her ass?
The film's climax involves the "boys," Mulroney and Wilson, who both look at least 35, chasing each other around the house and collapsing in a slappy face game, and the girls -- Keaton, McAdams and Parker -- sitting in a puddle of raw eggs on the kitchen floor, laughing hysterically. That particular gag is cute, but ruined by the barrage of advertising that preceded the film. If you've lived in America for the last six months, trust me, you've seen it.
What works in The Family Stone? Its stellar, thoroughbred cast.
Keaton's terrific, though I always wonder how she can sleep in a starched white shirt with a scarf wrapped around her neck. Nelson captures the film's kindest character, and Wilson runs a close second. Parker gives one of her bravest performances as Meredith -- rigid and off-putting, her little jewel eyes darting about like a lizard's, while her tight chignon turns her face into a stretched horror mask.
Still, there is a fundamental flaw in her character development: No one as rigid as Meredith ever would put a raw egg casserole in the refrigerator without covering it securely with plastic wrap.
-- Kathryn Eastburn