The classic Christmas movie more people need to watch
In my house, “the most wonderful time of the year” cannot begin until Diane Keaton throws a cozy dress and scarf over her crisp white shirt and demands to know who finished the pot of coffee.
I refer, of course, to the jewel of 2005 which is The family stonewritten and directed by Thomas Bezucha, a holiday home ensemble drama film that airs on Starz, which you can get in addition at Hulu Where Amazon Prime Video.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s festive vehicle received mixed reviews when it premiered. Where audiences (ahem, me) saw a sleek swing of comedic hijinks and heartbreaking emotion, critics saw a tonal boost. While audiences (me too) enjoyed the ups and downs of the film’s quirky love triangle — no, lozenge — critics said, “Uh, what?”
But this coziest, coziest vacation flick has garnered some cult status. A petty criminal, in my opinion, because it’s the perfect Christmas movie. Here’s why.
First, the setting: The Family Stone takes place almost entirely in the sprawling, charmingly cluttered New England home of empty nests Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson). It’s Christmas and their five adult children are heading home for the holidays. There will be take-out pizzas. There will be a game of charades. There will be slippers. If this film gave me anything, it was the hope of one day providing me with five adult children so that they too could go home for the holidays and recreate the total warmth and joy that this film exudes.
Eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his partner, Meredith (Parker), to meet the family for the first time and, as Sybil guesses correctly, to ask for his grandmother’s wedding ring so that he can offer. The wonderfully messy, loud, and bohemian Stone family, which includes heavily pregnant Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), Ben (Luke Wilson in a scarf), fun-loving pothead Amy (Rachel McAdams), and sweet (and deaf ) Thad (Tyrone Giordano) takes a moment to hate Meredith. You see, Meredith’s buns are super tight. She wears high heels in the house. It participates in capitalism. She’s a “spoiled, crazy, racist, bigoted Bedford bitch” (her words). Hilarity and havoc ensue.
This synopsis doesn’t quite do the film justice, as it’s a film whose charms transcend the plot. The real Christmas miracle here is in the film’s aesthetic, and you’re lying to yourself if you think aesthetics aren’t the most crucial element of any holiday movie. The Stone’s house is hygge on steroids: so many window treatments and pillows! So many patterned wallpapers! Every shelf, drawer and cupboard is completely overflowing with the detritus of family life. This is the most populated movie house I have ever seen. And sure there is a blanket of snow on the front yard for the duration of the film.
Then there’s the dysfunctional family piece, a prerequisite for vacation fare. The Stone family may carry the designation at first glance, but if you really dig into the movie — if you watch it every year for a decade and a half — you’ll find that they’re actually quite functional. And I think that explains why The Family Stone is such a perfect annual review.
Keaton’s aging matriarch is as sharp as she is affectionate. She first greets Ben with a warm hug and a warning that “Christmas will not be ‘clothing optional’ this year.” She teases Amy about the guy who “popped your cherry”. When Everett finally asks for the ring, she hesitates with an iconic Keatonian “Tough shit!” Kelly and her marriage can only be described as an aspiration. And the playful ribbing, butting and eye-rolling between siblings is something I want to understand. It’s the dynamic family equivalent of a bowl of buttered mashed potatoes.
The other secret ingredient is the way the whole film pivots in a single line delivered by Wilson on a snowy football bleacher. You think it’s going to be a movie, but then it turns into an even better movie. The line — you’ll know it when you hear it — elevates the movie to a whole new level, bringing new layers to why the Stone family is really so critical of Meredith.
I first saw The Family Stone in a packed movie theater in 2005. It was so packed, in fact, that I had to sit in the dreaded front row, and left with a stiff neck in neck and warmth in my heart. With every annual checkup since, I find new details that I hadn’t noticed before. Film is my Christmas touchstone in an increasingly chaotic world. For 103 minutes every December, I spend time with a lively, tight-knit, happy family whose love for each other is so strong it creates the circumstances for a dozen comedic fish-out-of-the-box sets. ‘water.
Every year I think “Maybe the Stones will be nice to Meredith this time.” Each year, the Christmas Eve dinner scene becomes even more excruciating than the last. And every year, I remember that crowded theater, and purse my lips in wistful resignation that they don’t make them like that anymore.
Leave a Reply