At my house, “the most wonderful time of year” can’t begin until Diane Keaton throws a cozy robe and scarf over her crisp white blouse and demands to know who finished the cup of coffee.
I refer, of course, to the jewel of 2005 that iswritten and directed by Thomas Bezucha, a dramatic holiday home ensemble film airing on Starz, which you can a either .
Sarah Jessica Parker’s holiday vehicle received mixed reviews when it debuted. Where audiences (ahem, me) saw a graceful seesaw of comedic antics and heartwarming tears, critics saw tonal whiplash. While audiences (me too) were enjoying the ups and downs of the movie’s quirky love triangle (no, the rhombus), critics were like, “Um, what?”
But for 16 holiday seasons, the coziest and most comfortable of holiday movies has drawn something of a cult following. A criminally small one, in my opinion, because it’s the perfect Christmas movie. This is why.
First, the setting: The Family Stone takes place almost entirely in the sprawling and charmingly messy New England home of empty nesters Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson). It’s Christmas and her five adult children are coming home for the holidays. There will be pizza to go. There will be a game of charades. There will be socks slippers. If this movie has given me anything, it’s the hope of one day having five grown children so that they, too, can come home for the holidays and recreate the utter warmth and joy that this movie exudes.
The eldest son, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), will bring his partner, Meredith (Parker), home to meet the family for the first time and, as Sybil rightly intuits, to ask for her grandmother’s wedding ring so he can propose to her. . The wonderfully messy, boisterous, and bohemian Stone family, which includes the heavily pregnant Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), fun-loving Ben (Luke Wilson in a scarf), Amy (Rachel McAdams), carrying an NPR bag, and sweet (and deaf) Thad (Tyrone Giordano) takes an instant dislike to Meredith. You see, Meredith’s bows are super tight. She wears high heels around the house. She participates in capitalism. She is a “spoiled, crazy, racist, bigoted bitch from Bedford” (his words of her). Hilarity and chaos ensue.
That synopsis doesn’t really do the movie justice, though, because this is a movie whose charms transcend the plot. The real Christmas miracle here is in the film’s aesthetics, and you’re lying to yourself if you think aesthetics aren’t the most crucial element of any Christmas movie. Home to The Stone is hygge on steroids – So many window treatments and pillows! So many patterned wallpapers! Every shelf, drawer, and cupboard is overflowing with the debris of family life. It is the most inhabited movie house I have ever seen. Y of course there is a blanket of snow in the front yard for the duration of the film.
Then there’s the dysfunctional family piece, a prerequisite of Christmas fare. The Stone family may carry the designation at first glance, but if you really dig into the movie, if you watch it every year for a decade and a half, you’ll find that they’re actually quite functional. And I think this explains why The Family Stone is such a perfect annual review.
The elderly Keaton matriarch is as acerbic as she is loving. She first greets Ben with a warm hug and a warning that “Christmas won’t be ‘clothing optional’ this year.” She teases Amy about the guy who “popped your cherry”. When Everett finally asks for the ring, she objects with an iconic Keatonian “Tough shit!” Her and Kelly’s marriage can only be described as aspirational. And the playful banter, headbutting, and eye-rolling between siblings is something I want to be in on. It’s the familiar dynamic equivalent of a bowl of buttered mashed potatoes.
The other secret ingredient is the way the entire movie revolves around a single line delivered by Wilson in a snowy football stand. He thinks it’s going to be a movie, but then you switch to an even better one. The line, you’ll know when you hear it, elevates the movie to a whole other level, bringing in new layers of why the Stone family is really so critical of Meredith.
I first saw The Family Stone in a packed theater in 2005. It was so packed, in fact, that I had to sit in the dreaded front row, leaving with a neck cramp and a hot head. heart. At every annual checkup since then, I find new details that I hadn’t noticed before. The film is my Christmas touchstone in an increasingly chaotic world. For 103 minutes each December, I spend time with a boisterous, close-knit, huggable family whose love for each other is so strong it creates the circumstances for a dozen comedic fish-out-of-water scenes.
Every year I think, “Maybe the Stones will be nice to Meredith this time.” Every year, the Christmas Eve dinner scene becomes even more excruciating than the last. And every year, I think back to that packed theater, and purse my lips in wistful resignation that they just don’t make them that way anymore.