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Movie Review

Meredith Morton gives a whole new meaning to the word uptight. That means there's only one thing for a Hollywood screenwriter to do: introduce her to a family that puts the loose in loosey-goosey. Everett Stone brings Meredith home to meet his family at Christmastime, intending to propose to her. But his mean-girl sister, Amy, and laid-back stoner brother, Ben, set about "welcoming" her first.

It's oil and water. No matter what Meredith does, she just reinforces her image as a tightly wound harpy, which invites Amy and Ben to wind her tighter. Desperate to make a good impression but being driven crazy, Meredith invites her sister, Julie, to come keep her company.

In the meantime, despite the Stones' apparent bon vivance, tragedy lurks just below the surface with matriarch Sybil's health. Take Everett's growing doubts about his relationship with Meredith, throw in her pretty sister and factor in Ben's sudden attraction to, of all people, Meredith, and you have the makings of an utterly predictable and not very romantic comedy.

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Positive Elements

The Stones are a family of free spirits and eccentrics, but they all tolerate each other's foibles with relatively good grace. Ben at first is all too willing to yank Meredith's chain, but he eventually comes to feel compassion for her. Sybil and her husband, Kelly, have weathered a past serious illness, and their marriage seems the stronger for it. Son Thad is deaf, and everyone supplements his or her speech with sign language so that Thad can be part of the conversation, even if he's not being spoken to directly.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Sybil has a distressingly casual attitude toward casual sex. So casual that she actually disapproves when Meredith refuses to sleep in the same bed with Everett, calling it "silly." (It should be noted that Meredith's "stand" results more from queasiness at sleeping with Everett in his childhood bedroom than any moral qualms.) Sybil is fond of using crass sexual terms in front of her family, and picks a particularly colorful one to refer to Amy's losing her virginity—not disapprovingly, mind you. (Meredith repeats it later.)

Sybil lifts her pajama top to reveal a mastectomy scar. Her husband caresses it to show that he loves her despite the loss of her breast. The two kiss, with sex implied as the camera cuts away.

Thad brings home his homosexual lover, Patrick, and the Stone family celebrates and defends his lifestyle. Indeed, Sybil half-jokingly says she wishes all her sons were gay.

After a night of drunkenness, Meredith wakes up in Ben's bed, thinking she's had sex with him. (They haven't, although several people think they have.) A sleazy sight gag involving an erection and other conversations about sex round things out.

Violent Content

Beyond a few pratfalls, Meredith slaps Ben. Ben and Everett get in a fistfight and wrestle on the floor, bloodying each other's faces.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of the euphemism "friggin." One use of the s-word and a handful of other swear words. Meredith misuses God's name at least eight times, and Sybil adds "d--n" to her profanity three times. Jesus' name is abused once. Sybil apparently says a "very bad word" in sign language, too.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Ben takes Meredith to a bar, where she proceeds to get extremely drunk. Ben also drinks, and their table is lined with empty beer bottles. Meredith buys a round of beers for the entire bar and later says they should try to "score some pot." In another example of casual parenting Ben smokes marijuana from a pipe while talking with his dad, which leads Sybil to ask Ben, "You and Daddy have fun getting stoned?" (Dad didn't partake, but neither did he object.) Several people have wine with a meal.

Other Negative Elements

The only "normal" and well-adjusted couple in this story is the gay one. And that says a lot about what the filmmakers think about homosexuality. The Stones emphatically state that homosexuality is not a choice, and even though Meredith doesn't mean to be disrespectful when broaching the topic of homosexual couples adopting children, she's portrayed as an intolerant prude for having any concerns at all. Her concerns, for the record, are logistical ones, not moral ones. She's worried about the layer of difficulty homosexuality adds to one's life in our current culture.

It's implied that the only way Meredith can loosen up is by getting drunk.

Conclusion

The Family Stone tries very hard—too hard—to be a feel-good Christmas movie. Instead, we're "treated" to a series of nails-on-the-blackboard moments. This story had potential, but it fails many times on the most basic level. To start with, you wonder what Everett ever saw in the insufferably uptight Meredith. There is not for one moment an emotional closeness between them. Various people say and do things, not because they logically grow out of their character, but because they're needed merely to advance the story. Really, who would feel free to invite her sister to someone else's house for Christmas without asking first? But how else were they going to get the "other woman" into the story?

The film's casual attitude toward illicit sex grates on the nerves far worse than sloppy storytelling, though. Hearing a mom crudely joke about her daughter losing her virginity had me cringing. There is also the not-so-subtle glorification of homosexuality. (Director Thomas Bezucha's only previous film is a gay-themed romantic comedy.) Take all this, factor in the drug abuse and the profanity, and I can only conclude that this Stone deserves to sink like one.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Sarah Jessica Parker as Meredith Morton; Dermot Mulroney as Everett Stone; Rachel McAdams as Amy Stone; Luke Wilson as Ben Stone; Tyrone Giordano as Thad Stone; Elizabeth Reaser as Susannah Stone; Brian J. White as Patrick; Diane Keaton as Sybil Stone; Craig T. Nelson as Kelly Stone; Claire Danes as Julie Morton

Director

Thomas Bezucha ( Monte Carlo)

Distributor

20th Century Fox

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Tom Neven

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