Thursday, January 12, 2006

Okay, did we forget to include anyone in the picture?

We just finished watching The Family Stone in the mall and the overall reactions the viewers (meaning us) was that it was around 90% likeable. Almost all of us have favorites among the actors starring the flick and who doesn't love stories set during Christmas, right? Plus who doesn't like Sarah Jessica Parker, with just the right amount of awkwardness that's part of her charming persona? But just in case you missed the movie, the story mills around the Stone Family and the adult children's homecoming around Christmas. The first to arrive usually are Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his partner, Patrick Thomas (Brian J. White). Then it's Susannah Stone-Trousdale (Elizabeth Reaser) with her small daughter in tow, followed by Amy (Rachel McAdams) before Everett (Dermott Mulroney) with his straight laced New Yorker girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker).

The Stones are ultra-liberal minded folks who embrace and indulge their children in everything they want to do as a form of acceptance, as it turns out it that that kind freedom doesn't usually translate to the children's well-being. The problem starts when Amy starts telling them her less-than-favorable first impression of Everett's girlfriend, from her irritating throat clearing habit to the way she talks non-stop. As we'll see later this influences their better judgment that they've already made up their mind that Meredith's not good enough to be accepted into the family even before she enters the door. They made her feel unwelcome right from the start and her solicitous boyfriend worrying thinking she might be a tad paranoid about the whole thing. To his credit, Everett did defend her when he saw and heard for himself their hostile reactions the first few hours of the first day of the meeting. He told them off and asked them to give her a chance. Fortunately Everett wasn't the only ally Meredith found in the family, there's also his brother, Ben (Luke Wilson) who liked SJP's character from the very start. But things came to a head during dinner the next night. Discussions flowed freely between the family members, Meredith kept to herself most of the time till the topic of Thad and Patrick adopting a black baby entered the picture. Meredith couldn't help herself but react to the line the mom, Sybil (Diane Keaton) said that she'd rather have all of her sons gay so they wouldn't ever leave the house. Meredith reacted that knowing society more than frowns on gay folks she asks how could a mother wish for hard life on all her sons? That stopped all discussions cold and one by one, with the exception of Everett and Ben, they all started ganging up on her till daddy Stone, Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) slammed his foot down (or more specifically, his silverware) making her run off the the table in tears. Everett walked out in disgust over his family's treatment of his girlfriend while Ben ran after Meredith. They got to talking in a bar in town and that's where she learned all the secrets that could be gained to either help her win the fanily's affection or use it as a subtle weapon in case they start getting on her case again.

The whole family-at-Christmas setting reminds me a bit of that 'ol Sandra Bullock favorite, While You Were Sleeping but the difference between the Callaghans and the Stones couldn't be more glaring if we were to compare the two families:
While the Callaghans embraced Bullock's Lucy on sight; the Stones spurned Parker's Meredith.
The Callaghans spoke glowingly about Lucy; the Stones snarked about Meredith behind her back.
The Callaghans were obviously a well-adjusted family; the Stones were dysfunctional.
The Callaghan's dad and mom brought their kids up according to societal tradition, taught them to respect their authority and respected their wishes after well formed discussions; the Stone's dad and mom brought their kids up in a liberal way, the dad wasn't much of an authority figure, the mom was domineering leaving the kids to find their own way while growing up, and at times interfered with those who deviated from their non-traditional upbringing.
Although the Callaghan's Peter (Peter Gallagher) and Jack (Bill Pullman) have their similarities on the surface with the Stone's Everett and Ben, their roles in their family's lives were reversed.
I also agree with Meredith's reaction to the statement at the dinner table, it was understandable and right if not a bit out of place but they shouldn't have mobbed her for it and shouting "God damn you!" at guest was certainly uncalled for and very rude. She wasn't personally attacking their deaf son in the first place, if anything she was questioning the mom's principles. To his credit, Kelly did look far and wide for Meredith to apologize for his outburst. Besides, Meredith did her best to help around the kitchen and trying to start a conversation with everyone while trying to tiptoe around the proverbial "eggshells." It's also worth pointing out that they didn't exactly warm up to her the first moment she walked in the door causing one IMDB forum poster to remark that you wouldn't find the same reaction in his native Ireland where the hosts would do everything possible to make their guests as comfy as possible (score another point for the similarities between the Irish folks and the Pinoys in hospitality). Also considering the fact that Sybil finally confessed that they're all they have to cling to, shouldn't they have given Meredith a fighting chance to prove her worth before making judgments? Despite all these things I do think the movie's worth every centavo we plunked down to watch it. It may not be a cozy flick suited for Christmas but it's certainly worth a good discussion around the dinner table. Just keep the cuttlery out of sight.

* Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.

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