Thursday, December 15, 2005

The titular rock in “The Family Stone” is both a family surname and a diamond the main character hopes to give his girlfriend.

The film itself, well that’s another kind of stone — a lump of coal just in time for the holidays.

“Stone” finds “Sex and the City’s” Sarah Jessica Parker playing so hard against type you can practically see the veins bulging in her neck.

OK, Miss Parker’s latest character is in no way, shape or form “Sex’s” Carrie Bradshaw. But she’s not a recognizable human being, either. And she’s not alone. Few of her talented cast mates — including Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams —act or react like the rest of us might.

“Stone” hearkens back to Jodie Foster’s 1995 film “Home for the Holidays,” which similarly squandered a fine cast and seasonal cheer. The movie follows the blandly likeable Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) as he brings his girlfriend Meredith (Miss Parker) home to meet the folks for the first time. It’s nearly Christmas, and the Stone abode is buzzing with nonjudgmental cheer. Son Thad is homosexual and is dating a black man (Brian J. White), neither of which prevents the family from wholeheartedly embracing the couple.

Meredith is another story.

Her brittle walk resembles an icicle, she doesn’t take kindly to hugs, she clears her throat in the most affected way. And those are her good points.

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha captures the hustle-bustle of the holidays with care, and the notion that a progressive family can’t find it in their hearts to warm up to Meredith holds promise.

However, Mr. Bezucha doesn’t take his own hint. Instead, he expends his creative energies trying to make us believe Everett and Meredith would ever click — something neither Miss Parker nor Mr. Mulroney even try to fake — or that the cancer scare facing a supporting character is anything but a cheap stunt.

The only Stone willing to give Meredith a chance is Mr. Wilson’s Ben, a stoner whose attachment to Meredith makes even less sense than Everett’s.

When all else fails, Meredith finally begs her sister (Claire Danes) to swing by to provide some desperately needed support. Not only does Miss Danes’ Julie show little loyalty to her sister during a dinner sequence that casts Meredith as homophobic, but she goes weak at the knees for the handsome Everett.

Thanks for coming, sis.

It’s all downhill from there, as the convoluted plot strings tighten into a knot no cast could untangle.

Two actors manage to rise above the rubble. Craig T. Nelson’s work as Papa Stone finds the ex-“Coach” star embracing middle age — and a solid move toward character actor roles. Even better is Diane Keaton, whose motherly approach belies conventional appearances.

The film’s final moments veer from jaw-dropping resolutions to a ham-handed tribute to a lost family member that’s treated with all the subtlety of a Bronx cheer.

A word of advice: Make a list of the holiday films you want to see then check it twice. “The Family Stone” is only for those who have been very, very naughty this year.


TITLE: “The Family Stone”

RATING: PG-13 (Adult humor, coarse language and drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha. Cinematography by Jonathan Brown

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes



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