The Family Stone review by Mike Long

In the middle of the 20th century, airing one's dirty laundry in public was an unheard of concept. As things "loosened up" during the latter half of the century, more and more people came forward with stories of their childhoods and the idea of the "dysfunctional family" was born. As time went on, we saw dysfunctional families portrayed in all facets of media -- TV, movies, books, and theatre -- to the point that the idea has become cliched. The film The Family Stone takes the concept and so thoroughly runs it into the ground that someone will now need to reinvent the dysfunctional family concept.

Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), home for Christmas to meet his family. The Stone Family consists of; Sybil (Diane Keaton), the matriarch; Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson), the laid-back father; Thad Stone (Tyrone Giordano), Everett's brother who is deaf and who brings his partner, Patrick (Brian White) with him; Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams), the rebellious sister who is the only family member who has met Meredith; Susannah Stone Trousdale (Elizabeth Reaser), the quite sister who is accompanied by her young daughter, Elizabeth (Savannah Stehlin); and finally, Ben Stone (Luke Wilson), a very mellow guy who takes everything in stride.

When Everett and Meredith arrive, Meredith immediately finds herself thrown into the middle of this crazy family and quickly gets a vibe that they don't like her. Meredith's uptight air clashes with the zaniness and openness inherent in the Stone family. While the Stone's are settling in for their traditional Christmas, Meredith invites her sister, Julie (Claire Danes) to join/help her. Before Christmas Day is over, the Stones and the Morton sisters will deal with romance, betrayal, and tragedy, and no one will be the same afterwards.

With most of the movies that I review, I accuse them of being underwritten, as they have vague characters and even vaguer stories. The Family Stone is the opposite of this situation. The movie has far too many characters and the subplots pile up like crazy as the movie progresses. In short, writer/director Thomas Bezucha has attempted to make the ultimate dysfunctional family dramedy, and the result is a mish-mash which never gels.

There's nothing wrong with treating the audience like competent adults and challenging them. But, there is a problem with presenting us with far too much information. The Stone family is quickly introduced and it's up to us to keep up and learn everyone's idiosyncrasies and relationships. (I dont know if it was the movie or me, but it wasnt until the last third that I understood that Susannah did indeed have a husband.) And as we meet every character, we learn that most of them are deeply flawed, many ludicrously so. And yet, they are supposed to be lovable as well, as they demonstrate how open and accepting they can be to their gay son and his lover. I can only imagine that this was supposed to make the audience uncomfortable, but it will ultimately make most confused. The same goes for Meredith. When the family turns on her, I was left wondering, is she supposed to be unlikable, because I just find her bland.

As if the sheer number of characters wasnt confusing enough, the story throws together so many genres and plots that it feels like watching several films at once. We have the bringing the girl home to the family story which appears to be the keystone of the movie. Then we have a needlessly dramatic serious illness plot. Then, theres the inappropriate flirting idea, which takes over the last third of the movie. And finally, we have the stoner movie that Luke Wilson is in. Intertwined throughout all of this is an odd mixture of dry humor and slapstick comedy. Of all of this, I only enjoyed the movie that Luke Wilson is in.

A friend of mine has a theory that a star-studded cast will overwhelm a movie and such any quality from it. The Family Stone may be a good indication of this theory. The cast is superb and even Sarah Jessica Parker isnt too annoying in the movie. And given the crop of familiar faces, I wanted to like the movie. However, the movie kept pushing me away as it kept pushing the drama and comedy in my face. Given the strong cast and the inherent dynamic which should occur when an extended family gathers, the movie exerts too much effort instead of relying on simple inertia.

The Family Stone gathers on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer was enhanced for a16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, as the picture shows essentially no grain and no defects from the source material. The skintones look realistic and the colors look fine. The scenes inside the Stone home are somewhat dark at times, but this isnt distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue, sound effects, and music reproduction. Being a dialogue-driven film, there isnt much in the way of surround sound or subwoofer effects, but the stereo effects are fine.

The Family Stone DVD contains a nice selection of for the audio commentary from Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney. This is an odd commentary, as the pair essentially giggle throughout the entire film, occasionally pointing out something from the film. Its like watching the movie with two 12 year old girls. The second audio commentary features writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford, and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. This is your average semi-technical chat, but at least the speakers maintain their composure. They do a good job of talking about the use of locations in the film vs. sets, and point out how detailed the Stone home set is. In Casting Session (8 minutes), Bezucha, London, and casting director Mindy Marin talk about getting the ensemble cast together and how Diane Keaton was the lynchpin. We get red carpet interviews with World Premiere (6 minutes). There is an 8-minute Q & A with Cast from a film festival. The 18-minute Behind the Scenes is the standard featurette, complete with comments from the cast & crew and plenty of clips from the film, all taking a look at the story and characters. The DVD has 7 Deleted Scenes, which run 6 minutes and have an optional commentary from Bezucha and Ford. The extras are rounded out by a Gag Reel (6 minutes) and 3 Theatrical Trailers for the film.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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