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THE FAMILY STONE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: May 2, 2006

“You have a freak flag. You just don’t fly it.”

Film ***

The Family Stone is a well-written, fantastically acted comedy drama about a dysfunctional family that certainly rings true. It’s set during the holidays, a time when families get together to either celebrate, or try their best not to kill each other. In the case of the Stone family, a little of both is about to come into play.

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha has taken what could’ve been a typical disposable family portrait and injected a dose of life and personality into the characters. As dysfunctional and periodically irritating as this family can be, I didn’t want to part ways with them at the film’s end. And the cast is simply one to die for, as they play a vital role in the film’s success.

The movie kicks off with Everett (Dermot Mulroney) taking a giant risk. He’s bringing his fiancée to spend Christmas his family. There are only two problems with such a scenario; Everett’s family is the extremely judgmental type and the fiancée, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), is too much of a perfect target for them. She’s a hyper-sensitive, well-dressed personality who’s no match for the Stone’s huge touch of eccentricity.

After pulling in his family’s driveway, Everett warns his fiancée, “They’re all watching you right now.” And low and behold, they are, right through the front window. Right then and there do we realize that this is going be an interesting holiday.

The family members include dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) and the ultra eccentric mom Sybil (Diane Keaton), rebellious daughter Amy (Rachel McAdams), slacker son Ben (Luke Wilson), and son Thad (Ty Giordano), who happens to be gay and deaf. And from the moment Meredith is greeted by the family, a feeling of awkwardness seems to remain.

The story progresses with pure hilarity as the family tries their best to break Meredith, especially Amy who can’t stand anything having to do with her. Eventually, Meredith endures more than she can muster, forcing her to move to a hotel in town. As a result of this, Meredith’s close sister, Julie (Claire Danes), comes to town to comfort her. And as matters are intended to be resolved, they are about to get twice as complicated.

Even as moments of physical pratfalls ensue during the film’s second portion, The Family Stone remains a winning character driven comedy. The writing and the cast simply shine throughout. It’s really hard to single out anyone. Everyone from Diane Keaton to Rachel McAdams to Luke Wilson get to showcase some fantastic moments. And Sarah Jessica Parker is a scream in a role that is truly unlike anything she’s done before.

And I connected to the movie even more once a secret involving one of the characters is revealed. It was an unexpected emotional connection that made me appreciate the film on a level I didn’t think was possible. For that, The Family Stone will remain a most personal film to me, as well as an endearingly funny film.

Video ***1/2

Fox’s anamorphic handling of the movie is most grand and exceptional. The Christmas time setting is felt throughout the film, as the constant sight of snow will have you feeling all “Christmasy” in near summertime. Colors are wonderfully displayed, as well. Some slight image softness detected, but very very brief. For the most part, a terrific job!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a good one, though the film is a dialogue driven comedy. Music playback and dialogue delivery are extremely strong and clear, and a sequence involving physical pratfalls provides a nice boost.

Features ****

Fox delivers a fantastic listing of extras, starting off with two commentary tracks; the first with Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney; the second with writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford, and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. Also featured are six deleted scenes with optional commentary, Fox Movie Channel’s Casting Session and World Premiere specials, a
Behind the Scenes Featurette, a Q&A with the Cast at the Screen Actor's Guild Theatre, a Gag Reel
and the "Morton Family Strata" Recipe & More.

Summary:

The Family Stone is one heartwarming and genuinely funny holiday picture…with a twist. Rest to sure, this is one family worth spending a couple of hours with. Wholly recommended to all!

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