When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his uptight, icy girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) for Christmas, his somewhat eccentric family has difficulty accepting her into their lives. When Meredith asks her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to join her for moral support, it only serves to trigger moe problems as tensions begin to spiral out of control.
It begins with a bite, with Everett introducing Meredith to his family. It’s a big one too. His parents Sybil and Kelly, brothers Ben and Thad, and sisters Susannah and Amy. Also in the Stone household for Christmas is Thad’s husband Patrick and Susannah’s daughter.
The family already has their own preconceived notions of who Meredith is, thanks to Amy (a snarky and delightful Rachel McAdams), who met Meredith earlier in the year and found her stiff and unlikeable. Meredith is stiff, and she does have unlikeable moments, but I viewed her as more awkward and nervous, an emotionally distant woman who probably just needed to be welcomed with some semblance of warmth and kindness… but the Stone family seem hostile almost right off the bat, not at all used to someone in their home who is not as open and affectionate as they are. Yes, Meredith has issues, and yes, some of the stuff she says to them is offensive, but she came across to me as someone who has difficulty expressing herself and ends up sticking her foot in her mouth more often than not.
The Stone family has their unlikeable moments too. They can be rude, abrasive, and deliberate in their provocation. Amy does her best to make Meredith uncomfortable, while Sybil refuses to give Everett the family ring to propose to “that woman”. Ben (Luke Wilson), being the laid-back brother, is probably the only one in the family who goes out of his way to try and make Meredith feel welcome, even if he’s a bit strange in how he goes about it. The majority of this movie is the family openly disliking Meredith, while Meredith continues to say and do things that seem to justify their discord.
When Julie enters the picture, the whole family seems enchanted by her, which only makes things worse, at least for a while. Being in such close quarters causes the family to really think about who they are and what they want in life, and how perhaps their open hostility towards Meredith is about much more than a simple dislike for the woman. Meredith must also learn how to let her hair down, so to speak, and stand up for herself. And maybe stop being so emotionally unavailable to the people she cares about.
It’s possible that it could be post-Christmas blues, or hormones, or the fact that the world has become a garbage dumpster fire, but I spent probably sixty percent of the film crying. There are a lot of emotional moments, especially surrounding the Stone matriarch, Sybil, played by Diane Keaton, who I could watch in just about anything. Show me anyone crying on screen and I get emotional. Show me a man crying on-screen over his mother, and I’ll sob like a baby. Thankfully the movie doesn’t linger in its sorrowful moments, which is beneficial in making them even more effective. It has a well-crafted script that effectively juggles the entire cast of characters so that none of them suffer from lack of screen time or character development…except for maybe Susannah who didn’t seem to have much to do beyond wandering around pregnant. Honestly, with another cast or director, I might have ended up hating all of them, but in such capable hands, the characters were more relatable and fleshed out than they could have been.
For me, McAdams and Keaton were the standouts, but I really did enjoy the entire cast. They felt like family, with genuine performances from all of them. Perhaps the ending was a bit trite, and maybe a tad too convenient, but I didn’t care. I welcomed it, as I do most happy endings in Christmas or holiday-themed movies. The Family Stone has a little bit of everything. Romance, comedy, an extremely cringey dinner scene, and just the right amount of sentimentality to make you reach for the tissues. This will definitely be put in my yearly Christmas movie rotation.