Forgotten Films

The Family Stone

Sometimes a film transcends expectations and leaves you emotional. The Family Stone could have been soapy television movie fodder, the kind of thing that Channel Five broadcast daily in the late afternoon, sometimes staring Kelly Martin but usually Jennie Garth. It's Christmas in the Stone household and prodigal son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his partner, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for their first festive season with the family (Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Elizabeth Reaser).

Meredith is a controlling highflying businesswoman who never relaxes and who, despite their liberalism, they just don't like and their mutual dislike develops further when it becomes apparent that Everett is going to propose to her. Meanwhile, the real tragedy that bubbles under the surface of this close-knit family is slowly revealed.

It should be horrible - and indeed marks are lost for the inclusion on the soundtrack at a crucial moment of Tchaikovsky's Trepak (Cossack Dance) from the The Nutcracker (which has been used in so many movie trailers now that it simply doesn't sound right unless a voiceover man enunciates 'Coming this holiday season to a cinema near you… Rated PG-13') and a chintzy title sequence that looks like it was borrowed from an early eighties sitcom.

But writer director Thomas Bezucha seems to have been aware of the pitfalls and does essentially two things that elevate the work. Firstly, unlike Meet The Parents and good gosh Relative Strangers, the enmity between Meredith and the family isn't the whole story -- it's simply used throughout the reveal more about the characters and their attitudes. The possible real reason for their dislike isn't exposed until at least halfway through the film and depending upon the viewer it has the potential to make us like them less; we could think that they're as judgmental as she is.

Secondly, he shows and doesn't tell. It's a very sharp script, very funny at times. But he cuts the words if a look will do, he lets subtext carry a scene, holding back the big speeches for when they really matter so that they have more impact. He knows that the less someone speaks the more interesting they become. The biggest shock in the film is revealed economically through an oblique line of dialogue and a hug. It's very refreshing to find a film that actually lets the audience try and work out some of the story for themselves.

All of which wouldn't work if the ensemble cast weren't so genial and importantly actually give the impression that they could be a real family, despite the obvious problem of not looking alike. The production design helps - the place really looks lived in. But I think the key is Thad, the hearing impaired brother. Throughout, whenever he's in the room, one of the other characters is signing a translation for him and sometimes unconsciously as one person leaves another will pick up were they left off. This highlights a chemistry between them which isn't usual in these family dramas and also provides another line of silent communication for how these characters are feeling.

The best at this are Diane Keaton's matriarch and Rachel McAdams who hasn't been around much since Red Eye and is as luminous as ever in what is essentially a secondary role. It's unfair to single out any performer out because the whole cast is outstanding but a word or two for Sarah Jessica Parker who, after a career of being the likeable one, is utterly convincing as the stiff. It's impossible to reconcile that this is the same actress who bounced around Steve Martin in LA Story all of those years ago. Oh and Claire Danes is in here too in the tricky role as her sister who turns out to be her opposite and of course they like her.

The dvd is available everywhere and before anyone starts to question if it's a forgotten film, according to the Internet Movie Database it only had a limited release in Brazil and a dvd premiere in the Netherlands which is good enough for me. Like The Core this seems to be one of those big release films that no one has seen. Then again, look at the poster!

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