In my house, “the most wonderful time of the year” can only begin when Diane Keaton throws a cozy dress and scarf over her crisp white shirt and demands to know who finished the pot of coffee. I’m referring, of course, to the 2005 gem of The Family Stone, written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, a vacation home ensemble drama that airs for free onThis year.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s party vehicle received mixed reviews when it premiered. Where audiences (ahem, me) saw a sleek swing of comical hijinks and poignant tear, critics saw a tonal boost. While audiences (me too) enjoyed the ups and downs of the movie’s original love triangle – no, diamond – critics said, “Uh, what?”
But over the course of the 16 seasons of Christmas, the coziest holiday movie has garnered some cult following. A petty criminal, in my opinion, because it’s the perfect Christmas movie. Here’s why.
First, the setting: The Family Stone takes place almost entirely in the sprawling and charming New England home of empty nests Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson). It’s Christmas and their five grown children are coming home for the holidays. There will be take out pizzas. There will be a game of charades. There will be slipper socks. If this film has given me anything, it is the hope that one day I will get five grown children so that they too can go home for the holidays and recreate the total warmth and joy that this film gives off.
The eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his partner, Meredith (Parker), to meet the family for the first time and, as Sybil correctly understood, to ask for his grandmother’s wedding ring so that ‘he can suggest. 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) and the sweet (and deaf) Thad ( Tyrone Giordano) takes a dislike of Meredith for a moment. See, Meredith’s updos are super tight. She wears high heels around the house. It participates in capitalism. She is a “spoiled, mad, racist and bigoted female dog from Bedford” (her words). Hilarity and chaos ensue.
This synopsis doesn’t quite do the film justice, as it is a film whose charms transcend the plot. The real Christmas miracle here is in the aesthetics of the movie, and you’re lying to yourself if you think aesthetics aren’t the most crucial part of a holiday movie. Stone’s house is hygge on steroids: so many window treatments and pillows! So many patterned wallpapers! Every shelf, drawer and cabinet is full of the trash of family life. It is the most inhabited cinema I have ever seen. And of cours there is a blanket of snow across the front yard for the duration of the film.
Then there’s the dysfunctional family room, a prerequisite for vacation fare. The Stone family may carry the designation at first glance, but if you really immerse yourself in 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 that explains why The Family Stone is such a perfect annual rewatch.
Keaton’s aging matriarch is as sharp as she is affectionate. She first greets Ben with a warm hug and a warning that “Christmas is not going to be ‘clothes optional’ this year.” She teases Amy about the guy who “broke your cherry”. When Everett finally asks for the ring, she delivers a “Tough shit!” iconic Keatonian. The marriage of her and Kelly can only be described as ambitious. And the playful ribs, butts and eye rolls among the siblings is something I want. It’s the vibrant, family-friendly equivalent of a bowl of buttered mashed potatoes.
The other secret ingredient is how the entire movie pivots on a single line delivered by Wilson on a snowy soccer bleacher. You think it’s gonna be a movie, but then it turns into an even better movie. The line – you’ll know it when you hear it – takes the movie to a whole new level, bringing new layers to why the Stone family is truly so critical of Meredith.
I saw The Family Stone for the first time in a crowded movie theater in 2005. It was so crowded, in fact, that I had to sit in the dreaded front row, and I left with a pinch. neck and warmth in the heart. With every annual rewatch since, 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 vibrant, tight-knit, happy family whose love for each other is so strong that it sets the scene for a dozen comic fish backdrops. out of water.
Every year I think ‘Maybe the Stones will be nice to Meredith this time around’. Each year the Christmas Eve dinner scene gets even more excruciating than the last. And every year I remember this packed theater, and I pursed my lips with a nostalgic resignation that they just don’t do it like that anymore.