The Family Stone , written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, with Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams. 102 minutes. A Warner Bros. film. Opens Friday (December 16). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
They say writers write what they know, but I hope to god Thomas Bezucha has a really active imagination, because this home-for-the-holidays tale is no Meet The Fockers Redux, regardless of what the lighthearted trailers would have you believe.
It's dark and truthful and scary, with a squirm-in-your-seat/cover-your-eyes factor that rivals any classic horror film. But peek through your fingers; it's worth watching almost every painful moment.
It's only right that if the movie wants to go against type, so should the actors. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Meredith, who's been brought home by boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) to meet the family. Though they both wear expensive heels, Meredith is miles away from Parker's sexy alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw. Prim, ridiculously proper and so buttoned-up you just know this tight-knit family is going to eat her alive, she exudes palpable fear, and Parker is phenomenal in capturing her terror and discomfort.
Then there's Diane Keaton. Usually, she's neurotically adorable, but here she's a wolf in sheep's clothing, grinning at Meredith's uneasiness and delivering some of the film's more hateful lines with bitchy relish. The words "You're back" have never been more sinister. Equally well-cast is Craig T. Nelson, playing her gentle husband and perfect foil.
Finally, there's Luke Wilson, the laid-back son. In a role his own brother Owen might have been perfect for, the normally charisma-free sibling shines, giving us all the tenderness and comedic moments the movie needs.
Sadly for Bezucha, the really frightening moment (even including the ones where Meredith alienates the family, a tragic secret is revealed and scene-stealing Rachel McAdams arrives on her mean sister's broomstick) arrives when he decides to turn this edgy, smart film into a clichéd romance. It's so implausible and awful, it threatens to ruin the entire movie.
As Everett, Mulroney is no help to this useless, false sub-plot, again doing his typically monosyllabic, hunky thing.
Luckily for The Family Stone, this jump-the-shark moment comes fairly late in the proceedings, when we've already been won over by the attention to details, sharp dialogue, terrific acting and disturbingly accurate look at the way family, as Erma Bombeck once put it, binds and gags.