Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a power dressing executive with high morals who is accompanying her boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to meet his liberal family for Christmas.
The film opens to the familiar refrain of Dean Martin’s version of the Yuletide song Let It Snow. Meredith and Everett are in a department store buying the last Christmas presents before they travel to meet Everett’s family for the festive holiday.
As the rest of Stone siblings gather at the family home to join their parents Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly Stone (Craig T Nelson), they talk about the imminent arrival of Meredith and Everett. Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams), the youngest of the Stone children, has already met Meredith and is scathing about her, in particular Meredith’s habit of nervously clearing her throat. Sybil does not understand why Everett is dating a woman whom she considers to be spoilt and conservative.
The couple finally arrive and Everett introduces Meredith to his parents and the rest of the family. Both Sybil and Kelly make polite conversation with Meredith but she is shunned when a family photograph is taken. Sybil shows Everett and Meredith to their room but Meredith feels uncomfortable sharing a room to Sybil’s surprise and Amy’s annoyance as she has to move out of her bedroom for Meredith.
Everett wants to use the visit to propose to Meredith but his mother refuses to give him her blessing because she believes that it would be a mistake for him to marry Meredith. Sybil refuses to give Everett her mother’s wedding ring.
The animosity towards Meredith appears harmless if a bit mean-spirited as the family make jokes at her expense, however the jokes and snide comments become increasingly bitter as the family sit down to a game of Charades. Meredith has to describe the film Bride Dressed in Black. As Meredith starts giving clues she unknowingly points at Thad Stone’s (Tyrone Giordano) partner Patrick (Brian J White) who is African-American. Amy relishes the opportunity of humiliating Meredith and accuses her of being racist.
Unable to endure the family’s hostility Meredith spends the night at a hotel and calls her sister Julie (Claire Danes) and asks her to travel down to lend her some moral support.
Everett and Thad go into town to meet Julie at the bus station. As the passengers come off the bus Everett sees Julie and is captivated by her as she stumbles and falls off the bus to meet them.
The arrival of Julie has an immediate effect on the rest of the family. She is the complete opposite of Meredith and the family instantly warm to her. But the tension in the household finally reaches a crescendo during dinner when Meredith questions Sybil’s morals. Following an emotional outburst from Kelly, Meredith leaves the house upset and tries to drive away only to crash the car into a tree.
Ben Stone (Luke Wilson) takes Meredith to a local bar and successfully gets her to relax. In one scene Ben tells Meredith “you have a freak-out flag but you’re afraid to fly it.” Meanwhile Everett and Julie go out looking for Meredith. After a conversation about life experiences and unfulfilled ambitions Everett soon realises that Julie is the woman he wants to be with.
There follows a lot of soul-searching as the family confronts some home truths. The revelation that Sybil had a mastectomy and is terminally ill explains her attitude towards Meredith and acts as a catalyst. At the end of the film the family gather for a poignant Christmas the following year. This time Ben and Meredith are a couple while Everett is dating Julie.
The Family Stone is a predictable feel-good comedy drama with some amusing moments – Luke Wilson provides most of the levity in the film. But other films like Meet the Parents (2000), Parenthood (1989) and Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) have handle the theme of the underdog and the dysfunctional Middle American family with a lot more success and humour.
The Family Stone (2005)
Dir. Thomas Bezucha
Stars: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance