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The Family Stone

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

No holiday season would be complete without the obligatory holiday family film. Impeccably timed, The Family Stone arrives in theaters barely a week before one of the most celebrated and dreaded days of the year. Crafting a family oriented holiday flick that does not feel emotionally overwrought and sappy is a daunting task. Remarkably, The Family Stone manages to walk the tightrope between heartfelt and sappy with grace.

Everett (Dermot Mulroney) is heading home for the holidays with his tightly wound, soon to be fiancé, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). Few experiences are more fraught with potential stress and embarrassment than meeting a loved one's family for the first time. Meredith finds herself fighting an uphill battle against the frightfully liberal and open-minded Stone family. Meredith's reserved behavior, quirks, and formalities provide the Stone family ample opportunity to question, ridicule and scorn their son's new girlfriend.

Director/writer Thomas Bezucha gleefully throws the unsuspecting Meredith to the wolves in The Family Stone. Poor Meredith runs the gauntlet of Stone familial humiliations and indignities. Bezucha brilliantly has Meredith putting her foot in her mouth constantly and seemingly always in an awkward position. Granted, some of Meredith's troubles are only appropriate given her behavior, but Bezucha smartly shows us a warmer side of Meredith that makes it easier to question the way she's being treated by the tough Stone family.

While the story itself is nothing remarkable, several of the performances of the primary cast are truly nothing short of great. Luke Wilson as Ben the casual stoner (no pun intended) son is hysterical. Wilson has some of the funniest lines in the entire film and his affable, low key presence on screen adds a wonderful punch.

Similarly entertaining is Sarah Jessica Parker as Meredith. Parker manages to elicit guffaws simply by clearing her throat or attempting to "relax". She is equally as funny when she finally decides to let loose. Rounding things out is a heartfelt performance from Diane Keaton as the über-loving matriarch, Sybil.

While The Family Stone is unquestionably one of the funnier films out this season, it's not without flaw. For starters, Meredith comes across as so socially awkward initially that it becomes extraordinarily difficult to imagine a scenario in which Everett (or any man for that matter) would be interested in her. How their attraction initially evolved is anyone's guess.

Equally problematic is the epilogue of the film. One of the refreshing aspects of The Family Stone is the open and joyous embrace of familial dysfunction. The Stones are far from perfect, they're as fucked up as anyone else and it's part of the reason why they're easy to love. The epilogue unfortunately posits a resolution that is FAR too tidy and not really in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film.

Despite a few plot contrivances that challenge one's ability to suspend disbelief and an ending that doesn't ring true, The Family Stone offers consistent laughs, solid performances, and a poignancy that is rare. For those seeking lighter fare in the wake of the numerous, heavyweight Oscar contenders, The Family Stone provides a more than adequate light hearted distraction.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars