CAIRO: An uptight white-collar city girl, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, visits her boyfriend’s family during Christmas. With that in mind as the opening credits roll, it seems that the ending is predictable: after much conflict, the woman learns to open up her heart and “feel the love, as the tagline suggests, as she marries her boyfriend in a heartwarming wedding scene.
Talk about jumping to conclusions – the plotline of this slapstick flick sounds a great deal like the numerous Christmas family films that promise a good laugh and a prevalent sense of warmness, but definitely does not follow in the footsteps of the Meet the Parents genre.
A few scenes into The Family Stone, it turns out to be more bizarre than expected. For starters, the Stones are so diverse in their orientation that you wonder how they can be one family, especially during the holiday in question. All under one roof you have: the deaf gay son (Tyrone Giordano), the stoned laidback joker (Luke Wilson), the urban businessman (Dermot Murloney), the pregnant wife (Elizabeth Reaser) and her daughter, and the rebellious rude college student (Rachel McAdams). This is, of course, in addition to the two parents (Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson) who hold the family together by their comforting familiarity with the diversity of their children.
Then enters the uptight bride-to-be: Meredith (Parker). Her hair always tied back revealing an unrelenting poker face, the plain dark-colored outfits and the too-quiet demeanor (occasionally interrupted by sudden unjustified outbursts), and there is one conclusion to reach: Meredith is an obvious mismatch; even once-sympathetic viewers start thinking the same.
Not only that, but she fails to connect or relate to anyone in the family and to make matters worse, she manages to spark animosity with some of them.
It could be because she is not trying hard enough, or that the family decided to shut her off the minute they saw her and it’s possibly a misunderstanding that got out of hand, but the result is the same: with so many skeletons hidden in the family’s own closets (material for many amusing and touching scenes), dealing with a newcomer that obviously doesn’t fit in proves to be a continuous challenge.
In a desperate plea for help, Meredith calls her sister. The easy-going Julie (Claire Danes) comes to the rescue, but her arrival further complicates matters. She is nothing like her sister; with her long hair flowing over her shoulders, her expressive face and her compassionate persona, she strikes a startling contrast with her sister, a contrast that the Stones take no time in noticing.
With everyone in the picture, the film explodes into a series of comic scenes that are reminiscent of the ever-familiar Shakespearean twists of fate. If it weren’t for the absence of a case of mistaken identity, the movie could have made a great 16th century stage comedy – taking out, of course, all of the parts that can only work with a modern American family.
At some points during the movie, it seemed too American to be understood by the Egyptian teenage audience that filled the theater anticipating a typical romantic comedy. During those scenes only a handful of people were laughing, to the puzzlement of the rest of the audience.
But the confusion was part of the film’s charm. Starting with the play of words in the title – it could mean the family name or the family ring that one of the sons wanted to give to Meredith; the witty poster showing someone giving the finger but using the ring finger instead; and the film’s plotline and scenes; all the elements combine in having viewers laughing and crying at the same time.