Every family has a collection of holiday classics they dust off and revisit every season–It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), White Christmas (1954) and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), to name a few. Yuletide enthusiasts keep these oldies-but-goodies in heavy rotation, at times scoffing at more modern holiday offerings like Four Christmases (2008) and Just Friends (2005). Yes, it’s true many contemporary seasonal flicks reek of bad eggnog and fruitcake froth, but there are a few gifts lodged in the coal. The Family Stone (2005) is one of those presents–tied up in a big green bow.
The film–which turns 10 today–has a stacked cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Craig T. Nelson. Its plot is also rather interesting. Meredith (Sarah Jessica), an uptight, neurotic workaholic goes home with her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) to meet his family for the holidays. Enter the Stones, led by mother Sybil (Diane) and father Kelly (Craig), a loosey-goosey, judgmental bunch who immediately disdain Meredith’s prim-and-proper candor. The awkward, icy rapport between Meredith and the Stones drives the film’s central conflict, reaching a fever pitch when Meredith begs her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to stay with her as an ally.
You might hate the film and its characters at first. Meredith is a cold, shrill and unapproachable woman with seemingly no redeemable qualities. The Stones, on the surface, are a miserable, cliquey squad unwilling to at least consider Everett’s love for Meredith. Amy Stone (Rachel) is catty at best–and downright mean at worst–toward Meredith, poking fun at the Manhattanite’s “grotesque” throat ticks and rolling her eyes every time she talks. Sybil joins in on the Meredith bashing too, groaning at her presence and snapping when she forgets to refill the coffee pot. Throw in some alleged racism and homophobia on Meredith’s part, and you have a group of people trying to out-insult each other. And it’s maddening–at first.
But things take a turn for the heartfelt when cracks start to form in these icy characters’ facades. We learn why Sybil is so vehemently opposed to the buttoned-up Everett marrying tightly-wound Meredith. (It’s heartbreaking, and we won’t spoil it for you.) After a particularly despicable exchange with the Stones, Meredith gets drunk, and we finally see her humanity. By the end of the film, these people–even Amy–don’t seem like monsters at all, but flawed, vulnerable creatures dealing with some of the worst things life can throw at you. You find yourself feeling empathy for all of them, when 45 minutes before you literally despised them all.
That’s what makes this film so great and essential to holiday viewing. It redeems despicable characters and shows us the most polar individuals can find common ground–though it may take some time. Bringing a significant other home for the holidays is terrifying; more likely than not, it will be rocky. This film illustrates that to its core–the difficultly balancing a new boo and your family’s neuroses. Eventually, though, it all levels out–just in time for dinner, hopefully.
And you need these lessons to get you through the next month. The Family Stone is a witty tearjerker, yes, but it accurately depicts everything you will deal with this holiday season. When your pothead brother starts hitting on your SO, you’ll know what to do. (Answer: Load him up with “brownies” and send him to some random football field–as one does.) When bae doesn’t want to share a bed with you (putting your moody sister on the couch) you’ll know exactly how not to react after watching this flick. Annnd when you want your boo’s sibling to try on the engagement ring you bought for her/him, this movie will shut down that idea quickly. (Seriously, why the hell did you even have it in the first place?) In short, this is your ultimate How to Survive the Holidays with Manic Family Members guide. It sounds ridiculous, but you know these tips will come in handy after cousin Frannie has too much wine.
But real talk: The Family Stone is one of the rare family films that shows what families are about–even the ugly parts. It resonates today for its representation of gay men, liberal-leaning characters and older individuals who still get their freak on. For 2005, the Stones are a pretty progressive bunch (despite their shortcomings), and the way they interact is akin to modern, melted families. Throw in their heated debate about nature vs. nurture midway through, and you have a film that feels refreshingly current–despite its 10-year post date.
In short, this movie is badass. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Most importantly, though, you’ll think. For its unwavering dedication to the truth–and bravura performance from Lady Keaton–I strongly urge you give this one a try. It will breathe refreshing depth to your airy, Christmas cookie-scented Grinch marathon.