Monday, January 2, 2006

The Family Stone

It’s Christmas and Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) goes home with her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) for the holidays to meet his family, the Stones.


Meredith seems as tightly wound, like her knob of hair at the back of her head. She looks cold, and younger sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) baits her continually, trying to make the ice queen crack. Even Everett seems to have taken on some of Meredith’s temperament. His brother Ben (Luke Wilson) arrives  and is polar opposites of his brother, that is, he is extremely casual; especially the way he dresses. Brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano), who is hearing impaired, arrives with his partner, Patrick (Brian J. White). Mom (Diane Keaton) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) welcome another daughter, who is expecting, and her little girl, Elizabeth (Savannah Stehlin).


Meredith gets off on the wrong foot by refusing to share Everett’s room and this means Amy has to sleep on the couch. Mom is no slouch, and she thinks Meredith’s a hypocrite (in so many words). Everyone realizes that Everett is making a mistake so when he asks his mom for the family ring so he can propose on Christmas, she refuses.


Meanwhile, Meredith makes her own family’s Christmas morning breakfast special, wanting to do something for her hosts. But she feels out-of-place and calls her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come (from Bedford; a nod to It’s a Wonderful Life?) and stay with her for moral support; she moves out of the house to the Inn.. When Julie arrives, Everett is kind of surprised; meanwhile Ben seems to have Meredith figured out. And what about Amy?


At dinner on Christmas Eve Thad and Patrick start talking about the baby they want to adopt and the uptight, prudish Meredith, asks: “But is it nature or nurture? I mean do you want to raise a child with gay parents, it’s already hard enough…” Mom tries to explain that the family has always thought that people are born the way they are born and so forth. Meredith could have stopped this inappropriate line of conversation at any moment, but she keeps going until Dad tells her to stop. What was a bad situation becomes even worse.


The next morning, (that night has a lot of the story in it), when gifts are shared, Meredith surprises all of them with the mother & child gift she has brought for each of the Stones; only they realize the ultra significance of it at first


The Family Stone is not a comedy though it has its moments. It is a very touching family story, where babies are born, love blossoms, and people die, and life goes on, to the next Christmas, when the family will gather again to celebrate their gift to one another.


I went to see the film with my younger sister. I was cringing through the whole table conversation part of the film, but my sister said she thought Meredith asked the kinds of questions about homosexuality that people think anyway. I said, “But she should have stopped! Anyone could see that she was digging a very deep hole and being offensive (a guest, people she didn’t even know, etc.). But my sister replied, “All of us get in situations where we should have shut up and didn’t; I kind of understood her.”


You will have to see for yourself if the film has a main character or a main theme as a character. I thought Diane Keaton was wonderful, and I always like Luke Wilson (seems to play the same basic kind of guy in all his films, but it works.) They keep mentioning the town of "Bedford” to the extent that you think the filmmaker must be trying to tell you something.


The Family Stone is a conventional film at times (I hate it when you can guess the dialogue) and unconventional at other times. It’s a film about family, dysfunction, fitting in, acceptance, the fact that nobody’s perfect and that family is all we’ve got, like them or not. 


I liked them a lot.


(Some might think this is a film with a politically correct agenda; the gay hearing-impaired son, adopting a baby with his partner, who is, by the way, African-American; Meredith who sleeps with her boyfriend won't do so in his parent's home, and Meredith's ill-timed interrogation of two dads raising a child - and which race will it be? There are many ethical and moral themes in the film that people may want to talk about, that are good to talk about. Perhaps the parents' seemingly easy acquiescence to their children's lifestyles most of all. Yet, what are parents to do with the choices their children make; what is God to do with the choices we make? Parents teach and love their children as God does us; then God leaves us free but God never stops loving us. 


After Meredith's fiasco at the dinner table, all I could think of was what Pope John XXIII said about religious controversy in 1959 when he announced the Second Vatican Council:


"in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity."


Maybe the Stone's had some distance to go about the essentials of God's will for us, but for them, charity reigned. Moral relativism is easy; charity is not. What's it to be?


(Other members of my family have now seen this film and they think the Stone's were terrible and very uncharitable; they disagree with my take very strongly. I stick to my review, however, because in the end "family is all we have" - and I think they were tolerant; they were facing a huge challenge that only a few of the family knew about... I do think Meredith had a lot of heart, and so did the "stones".)



libdibby said...

In "The Family Stone" it is not easy to predict who the good guys are.  Sure, Meredith is as uptight as the bun on her head, but you never saw anyone try harder to please others; you had to like her for the incredible effort she put forth.  Contrastingly, the Stone family are all loose and liberal (the mom even proclaims at dinner " [when I was pregnant] I hoped I would have a gay child"), but as it turns out the Stones are accepting only of those already within the inner family circle.  They are insufferably rude to Meredith.

During the ill-fated dinner scene, Meredith tries to ask honestly whether any mother every really hopes to have a gay child.  Her question is intellectual, but she is derided by the family (who choose to overlook the intelligent nature of her questions in order to be angrily and tearfully hurt) and shushed by them until she runs from the table.  That she returns to the family home the next day to cook Christmas breakfast for them is a testament to her strength, her ability to put aside her own feelings of anger and embarrassment, and her determination to get along with this monstrous family out of the love she has for Everett.

Ben is the one son who doesn't fit in easily with his family.  He's a ne'er do well, a slacker perhaps.  But as the story progresses, he is the only one who sees who Meredith really is.  He appreciates her for the unselfish, giving nature she hides beneath designer suits and tight hairstyles.  In time, Meredith learns to appreciate the beauty of being accepted for her true self, and she learns to wear her hair down.

The best part about this movie is how liberalism is shown to have the potential to be prejudicial, judgemental, ignorant, and downright mean.  Conservatism is shown to have heart and understanding.  It's kind of a flip-flop.  It was unexpected, and downright enjoyable.  Go see it!  

libdibby said...

OK, I just had to add a few more comments!

Em is right, at that horrible dinner Meredith was just asking questions we all think anyway.  In a liberal family, you would imagine that intellectual inquiry would be appreciated and welcome...but not in this family, not at all.  Quite the opposite.  Clearly, the Stones are only welcoming and comfortable with people who think and act just like themselves....something conservatives are constantly accused of.
I want to repeat that Meredith was being intellectually honest, she was most definitely not being offensive.  I will admit that she was naive.  But she granted the Stones a courtesy that they did not bestow on her, she gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Meredith's Christmas gifts to the family show clearly her sensitivity to what is truly important.  She knows the importance and gift that is family.  Why else would she allow those awful people to keep treating her so badly?

The main point of "The Family Stone" is that Meredith is a hero through her generosity of spirit.  Meredith leads the Stones to transformation.  The other main point is that liberals can be just as rigid as conservatives can be.  It's a good movie.

libdibby said...

No way (in reference to your little addendum)!  The problem with the Stones is that they only liked themselves!  They were exceedingly intolerant of Meredith even BEFORE they ever laid eyes on her.  And the mom, the one with the actual challenge, was as bad or worse than all the other members of the family!  Meredith remains the hero of the piece....what the Stones had going for them was the grace to finally (FINALLY!) grow as a family beyond their own very insular, very prejudicial borders.

One of the most telling points is that Meredith chose Christmas gifts for the family before she ever met them, based on who she thought they were.  Her gifts were beautiful and meaningful and celebrated family.  Before the Stones met Meredith, they had made up their minds as to who she was, and wrote her off....BEFORE they ever met her!  And they treated her very rudely, almost through the entire film.  They were awful!!!!!!!!

You have got to let go of this one, Sis!  Love, your loving sister!