Brian’s Exploratory Christmas Endeavor ’21: The Family Stone

The Family Stone - Rotten Tomatoes

My mother has been asking me to watch this film for years. Of course, the year I finally did, it was because my other mother decided to put it on in the middle of a very busy living room, and with me sitting at perhaps a 20 degree angle from the television. I am fully committed to re-watching the movie, but for now, take this review with a grain of salt: I was literally incapable of giving this movie my full attention.

That said, I found a lot to like in the movie, and I look forward to that future re-watch.

Perhaps as a result of my unique family situation growing up, I am willing to give films about family dysfunction a great amount of credit. That may be why I’m such a fan of Almost Christmas and why The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite film. Either films in this genre are written with an additional degree of sincerity, or just as likely, the chaos of keeping up with so many characters (which mirrors the chaos of a big family at a holiday gathering) causes one to view the film with a less critical eye.

Either way, these sorts of films just tend to resonate with me. This one is about a woman who is brought to her boyfriend’s family holiday, and whose uptight characteristics make her a poor fit indeed. To describe the plot in any greater detail might be a waste of effort when Roger Ebert has already done such a good job of it, but over the course of the film, people are judged and prejudged, bonds are broken and strengthened, and as often happens in films like these, emotional and literal honesty turn out to be the cures to the sorts of problems which we are able to cure.

The sorts of problems we are unable to cure also play a role, and I appreciate the script’s use of such things as simmering background motivation rather than strictly-last-minute revelations or anything as cheap as that.

The movie has an all-star cast, including the national treasure Diane Keaton, America’s own pep-pep Craig T. Nelson, ever-older-brother Luke Wilson, and a number of others, not least of which is the protagonist herself, played by an uncharacteristically vulnerable Sarah Jessica Parker.

On that point I want to admit I am not overly-familiar with the woman’s work; when I think of SJP, I think of Sex and the City, and that super-confident girlboss attitude to which she is associated. Here, though, she seems fragile and afraid, so intent on doing the right thing and failing so clumsily, getting herself in a worse and worse spot, and wearing it on her face as she tries to muscle through. I found it very endearing, and it made me sympathetic to her character.

It wasn’t the funniest film, as far as I could tell from my awful vantage point, but I did laugh a few times, and I am confident there was some humor I missed. My sister and mother, veteran viewers, had made note of a number of moments of humor embedded in physical acting. Facial expressions and such; the kind of humor my father would have said a blind person would miss out on.

I was surprised on looking the movie up to find it so divisive online. It’s split right down the middle on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t fair much better on IMDb among users. It isn’t anything unique or particularly special, I suppose, but it does seem real and sincere. It nails Christmas warmth, which is an all-important factor for me.

I’m giving this one a tentative 6 out of 10, but it’s possible I’ll raise that score later; I’m also calling it Good.

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