December 17, 2005

Movie Review: The Family Stone

It is that time of year, the time of year when theaters get a few holiday themed films. Oftentimes they devolve from clever wittiness into cookie cutter feel good films that Hollywood thinks people want to see. Is The Family Stone one of those movies? Yes and no, and the result is a rather entertaining film.

First, allow me to quote myself: "This will live or die based on the strength of the cast." I didn't realize just how accurate I was. The cast quite literally saves this film and raises it from the faceless masses. I am not saying it is destined for any type of classic status, but it is a good film.

Let's step back before moving ahead. The advertising for this is rather strange, as it does not completely represent what this movie is. It plays up the slapstick comedy side, ignoring the slightly more serious, dramedy tone of a good portion of it. As I was leaving the theater, a fellow patron commented on how the movie was good, but not what he expected. He said he is expecting more goofy comedy. Anyway, this is something that can help draw people in, but it could also lead to negative word of more. Pure speculation on my part, as my bit of anecdotal evidence seems to contradict my thoughts. I guess I should move along.

There are a couple of plot threads at work here. The main thrust of the film is eldest brother, Everett(Dermot Mulroney), bringing home his girlfriend, Meredith(Sarah Jessica Parker), to spend the holidays with his family. The problem is that Meredith has a rather icy personality which doesn't mess well with the slightly sarcastic Stone family. This leads to most of the comedy with the various combinations of personalities. But there are more serious things afoot. There is tension as a hidden family secret is revealed. People question their loyalties and question if others really know who they are. Then there is the arrival of Meredith's sister, Julie (Claire Danes), brought in for moral support.

The story doesn't tread any new ground, but it does sneak up on you. There is a little bit of bait and switch at work here. You are brought in with the promise of comedy, then out of nowhere comes some rather serious, touching, and uncomfortable moments for which you may not be prepared. There are some philosophical differences between Meredith and the Stones. And Everett and Meredith may actually be looking for things different than which they thought they were.

In the end, the plot doesn't matter much to me as the performances. The good cast sells the roles. Diane Keaton as the Stone family matron is the grounding force, while patriarch, Craig T. Nelson, is there for the double take. The family has a diverse group of kids. There is the slacker played by Luke Wilson. The sarcastic kid, played by Rachel McAdams. The gay and deaf son, portrayed by Tyrone Giordano. Lastly, there is the motherly sister, Elisabeth Reaser.

Of the cast, Rachel McAdams and Luke Wilson breathe life into their characters. The two have very charismatic onscreen presences. McAdams has really become a breakout star this year after her turns in Wedding Crashers and Red Eye. Luke Wilson, on the other hand, is the perfect guy for the slacker with insight character he plays.

The film was written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, second time feature maker, the first being 2000's Big Eden. He does a pretty good job of bringing these people together and make them feel like a family. I particularly like the inclusion of the deaf/gay brother, it was something I was not expecting, and it added another family dynamic without feeling like a gimmick. The one thing I wish about the film was that it have been a little bit more expository on the serious side of things, mainly concerning Keaton's character. I also wish the ending was something other than the epilogue. Not quite sure what I would have liked, but the ending didn't completely work for me, not to mention the whole bus sequence, that was too far into cliche-ville.

Bottomline. It is a fun film, with some serious tearjerker moments. It may be ultimately formulaic, but again, the cast raises the bar. Not likely to be a film I will revisit down the line, but I am glad to have seen it. I recommend this film, it will fill the holiday dramedy hole for this year.



Post a Comment