2005-12-30 / Columnists

‘The Family Stone’ – Roller Coaster Christmas

Crashing and cashing in on the Christmas holidays is the “The Family Stone.” The boisterous multi-star comedy is a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs, a cross between “Meet the Parents” and “Terms of Endearment.”

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, “Stone” isn’t sure what it wants to be: A tear-jerker or laugh-getter. So it tries to do both. Amazingly, it succeeds much of the time, thanks to some sparkling performances by Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Luke Wilson.

The eldest Stone son, Everett  (Dermot Mulroney,) is arriving for Christmas at the New England home of his bohemian parents, Sybil (Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson). And he’s bringing a special present, new girlfriend Meredith Morton (Parker). Meredith is a Manhattan power player, who has an irritating way of clearing her throat. Having met her in the city, college-student sister Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams) briefs the other family members on Meredith’s  flaws as Everett drives her to the house.

Meredith doesn’t stand a chance.  The vibes are bad enough to make her move out of the house and into a local inn for the duration of the visit. She calls her sister, Julie (Claire Danes), to come to her aid. However, Julie’s spectacular good looks and easy-going demeanor quickly catches the eye of on-the-fence Everett.

Tensions culminate during a Christmas Eve dinner when Meredith exhibits homophobia while discussing the imminent adoption of a baby by youngest Stone brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his longtime companion, Patrick (Brian White). The uptight girlfriend is basically banished from the abode of bohemians. Her rescuer turns out to the hippiest of all the Stones, stoner Ben (Luke Wilson), who gets her plastered at an area bar. Unraveling into her ditsy “Sex and the City” self, Parker sets her character’s sights on Ben, ending up in his bed.

More complications occur, the most profound being the revelation of Sybil’s malignant breast cancer. That takes the film into full-blown “Terms of Endearment” territory. Keaton handles it well, playing a dying matriarch who’s not always so nice.

“The Family Stone” is a holiday film, much like the dysfunctional group it depicts: Crazy, chaotic and often endearing.

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