The Family Stone


The Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus of The Family Stone says that “This family holiday dramedy features fine performances but awkward shifts of tone.”

I mean, yeah. That’s why it’s so good.

I didn’t come away loving it when I saw it in the theater. Too mercurial, I thought. And that excruciating dinner scene… But upon further viewings, I’ve come to realize it’s one of the great Christmas movies—my #2 overall—precisely because of its mood swings.

(What is “awkward shifts of tone” if not a definition of family?)

Not only does the film capture a particular kind of cozy, Hallmark-approved Christmastime—and one that’s distinctly New England—but it also vividly illustrates what it’s like to go through any kind of Christmas with the people you love but who are also most adept at driving you crazy.

“Your tie’s crooked”

From the beginning an immediate familiarity sets in as we’re dropped into this year’s Stone family Christmas, which feels like it could be any of the many Christmases they have shared together.

The family members gradually arrive at the Stone home and start chatting as if continuing an ongoing conversation. There’s hardly any backstory, no “remember last year when…” or other expository filler that can weigh down family dramas. As we meet each Stone, we can deduce at once their role in the family, though not yet what role they will play in the unfolding story.

Once they settle in, the home-for-the-holidays moments start slowly but steadily piling up. Like the random assemblage of characters going to get pizzas, a reminder to me of how driving to places around the holidays with people you don’t usually drive with feels a bit more special. Or Amy and Sybil pestering Everett about taking his tie off, which shows us that was something Amy and Sybil cared enough about and that Everett was the kind of person to wear a tie at a family get-together.

“I need you to do me a favor and try not to be so perfect”

Everyone starts out on a certain trajectory, but writer/director Thomas Bezucha does a great job of steering the key characters into unexpected directions, which are just as varied as the film’s tone.

Sybil’s terminal breast cancer is alluded to but never exploited, and is the impetus for the brief but powerful moments of reconciliation she experiences with her adult children before the end of the movie. Amy’s prickliness, which bleeds into outright hostility at times, gives way to brief moments of vulnerability.

And though the partner swap revealed in the one-year-later epilogue is borderline preposterous (Meredith’s totally cool with her sister dating her former fiancé? Really?), the circumstances that led to each character’s moment of clarity were sold well.

“Isn’t there anybody that loves me?”

I’ve made peace with my positive opinion of The Family Stone being in the minority. I know there are others out there who see what I see in it, but I also understand it’s not for everyone.

But, to paraphrase Sybil’s speech to Everett, I’d hate to see you miss out on it because you have this picture in your mind of the perfect Christmas movie. There’s no such thing, just like there’s no such thing as a perfect family or relationship or ring size or breakfast strata.

Embrace the mess. Let your festive freak flag fly. And say it with me: “I don’t care whether you like it or not!”

One response to “The Family Stone”

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