Thomas Bezucha is obviously a likable person who has a lot of good things to say about humanity. In his new film, The Family Stone, he unfortunately tries to cram it all into a movie that takes place over the course of two days.
At once farce (like You can’t Take it With You) and stirring family drama (like One True Thing), The Family Stone is full of hackneyed characters and plots enough to overwhelm any of the film’s many delights. By the end, you are not only aware you’re watching a movie, but you begin to resent its forceful charm, as if it’s begging you to “like me, like me, like me!”
Writing with crushingly good intentions but very little real insight into human nature, Bezucha throws up his characters as “types” only to undo those types in the second half, which means, we’re supposed to believe that they all change radically in the course of two days. I don’t know about your family, but if dramatic change comes to mine in a matter of days, it very rarely is good. It’s more than likely the result of too much alcohol and hair-trigger tempers, and shortly thereafter, there are tears and broken glass everywhere. An Edward Albee Christmas! But that’s another story for a different time.
Here, there the filmmaker seems bent on avoiding insulting anyone, so all the “bad” people must become good, all single people must “hook up,” all homophobes must “come around” and all families must recover after a loss. It must have a happy ending, damnit, no matter what the cost to the story. And in this film, it’s not that big a cost, considering most audiences will have fun watching the talented Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Rachel MacAdams and Sarah Jessica Parker.
There’s nothing quite like feeling like a Scrooge when a movie comes along that just wants to bring light into people’s lives. But you know how you feel when a mime dances around you, trying to coax a smile out you? Imagine going through that for two hours. Conflicts are too neatly tied up, people change too quickly and, in the end, it feels like the finale of a sitcom, in which the characters are force-marched to simplistic conclusions to their entangled lives.
Parker plays Meredith, an impossibly bitchy city girl who coils her hair tightly in a bun and wears her clothes clenched tightly to her body as if she is afraid something might spill out somewhere. The family (Stone) doesn’t want her to come. They hate her already. The sisters bitch about her behind her back, the mother (Keaton) is a hippy who doesn’t want to see her son marry some uptight, materialistic, cold fish. But, never fear, Bezucha isn’t going to leave you hanging. Even Meredith has her good points, they just have to be brought out by the right guy (for the record, it’s a bit annoying that anyone would think a woman like her could change overnight with the help of a good man).
Parker makes a point of distinguishing this performance from her work as Carrie in “Sex and the City,” but the problem with Meredith is that she has zero likability. All you can hope for is a little sympathy since the whole family hates her so much; it’s not fun watching an unlikable character dominate a film, no matter who it is.
Over the course of two days, much happens. Couples are confused about whom they really love, an unattractive sister finds love, etc. The Family Stone turns out to be two movies. On the one hand, it is a kooky farce with lots of Capra-esque good cheer and silliness. But it is also a film that tackles some serious subjects, like homophobia.
When Meredith asks the mother why she would necessarily want her children to be born gay, because “Nobody would wish that on a child,” Keaton gets to respond and the audience wants to cheer her resolve, giving the film its best scene by a mile.
It’s impossible to watch The Family Stone and not be impressed with Keaton, who seems to be able to turn any pig’s ear into a silk purse.
But Bezucha needed a take-no-prisoners rewrite to find out what story he was really trying to tell, rather than simply trying to please everyone.