Family disaster movies — and family disasters, for that matter — are a holiday tradition. The real thing isn’t so bad because, shucks, you love yer folks. But it’s touch-and-go for the unredeemably obnoxious brood of the dramedy The Family Stone, whose incredible characters set upon their scion’s prospective fiancée with a relentlessness that never quite makes sense. There’s some courage involved in indulging self-righteous, openly annoying characters like Diane Keaton’s matriarch, who looks like the fearsome result of actually living by her Manhattan snob’s credo (“I say what’s on my mind, and if you can’t take it, well then fuck off”). The victim, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), can do no right in the Stone homestead, close to bursting with the whole family there for the holidays. Her boyfriend (Dermot Mulrooney) looks on helplessly as his sister (Rachel McAdams) snipes, a scruffy brother (Luke Wilson) leers, and Mom withholds the heirloom engagement ring.
Director Bezucha frontloads the backbiting but pussyfoots around the resulting melodramas, letting everyone off the hook. So the outsized standoffishness and Parker’s bizarre robotic-nerd performance amount to stacking the deck. Even the obligatory “embarrassing dinner” scene turns into another opportunity for the film to congratulate itself for a toughness that it actually avoids.
At one point, during a what-is-each-Stone-doing-right-now montage, one sister watches Meet Me in St. Louis on TV. It’s a devastating reference that only recalls how that most sensitive of family-circus movies succeeds even within its era’s sentimental conventions. Compare the emotional cynicism of The Family Stone, which papers over the non sequitur Richard Curtis-romcom resolution by sobering us up with Mom’s terminal illness. Feel, you fools!
Opens December 16