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‘The Family Stone’ – A Christmas film about acceptance, and letting go

‘The Family Stone’ – A Christmas film about acceptance, and letting go

The Family StoneThe_Family_Stone_Poster

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha
2005, USA

The Family Stone is that movie that takes from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? except rather than the central theme being race, the subtext revolves around a liberal brood accepting a conservative opposite as one of their own. Immediately we garner a sense of who the Stone family is, and how much they rely on one another, when we set down on the lived in quarters of the family. Dad Kelly and mom Sybill live in their quaint house that they raised their five kids in, and are especially fond of them, all of whom have vastly different lives, but share their Bohemian lifestyle that Kelly and Sybill instilled in every one of them.

They may not agree with how they live their personal lives, but they’re happy in that they raised them all to be true to themselves. What makes this Christmas especially important is that mom Sybill, as played by Diane Keaton, has terminal cancer and is not expected to make it in to the new year. So not only do they have to welcome eldest son Everett’s new conservative and tightly wound fiancé Meredith in to their house, but the family has to gradually face the stone cold reality that their beloved mother will not be around the following year. The situation is made even more difficult considering that Kelly and Sybill have chosen not to announce the news of her cancer until after Christmas, and the word is spreading among their brood very quickly.

This becomes very tense among Sybill’s most loyal child, daughter Amy, as played beautifully by Rachel McAddams, who emulates her mother to the tee, and will likely take the news worse than any of her brothers and sisters. Most of the film revolves around Sybill and Kelly trying to ready their children for the worst, and hoping to carve out a future for them to ensure that they can better themselves and acquire immense happiness. This is brought to attention during the climactic dinner scene, where Meredith seems almost shocked at Sybill’s playful admission that she hoped all of her sons would be gay. Despite everyone’s efforts to loosen the tension and help Meredith save face, she seems to dwell on the challenges Kelly and Sybill’s deaf and gay son Thad has faced and will likely continuing encountering, now that he and his African American partner Patrick are planning to adopt a child.

It’s not so much Meredith’s sheer ignorance and clinging to her beliefs that bothers the family, but the notion that Sybill simply won’t be around to protect Thad when he’s inevitably faced with ignorance. Despite the unusual casting, The Family Stone is about this mismatched and odd family that mesh together so well. The cast and their performances are flawless as they mix with incredible chemistry, even mimicking sibling antics, and performing their own inner circle rituals like speaking while signing (for Thad’s sake), and taking group pictures at every occasion. Despite the general affable behavior of the Stone clan, you can sense they’ve been through the ringer and rely on one another in spite of their great distances. It’s their bond that makes them strong, yet genuinely impossible for anyone new to be accepted.


This is made clear where Patrick makes it known that, like Meredith, Amy didn’t quite accept him at first, prompting Amy declare that she loves him. Thad snickers with “That took years!” Most of Sybill’s work is spent trying to reach her son Everett who’s lost touch with his attempts to seek fulfillment in order to seek stability with married life and non-stop work. This somehow gives him the notion that a new wife can replace the eventual loss of Sybill, and he’s generally stone faced throughout his struggles to integrate Meredith in to his family. It’s a very mad scurry for Sybill to complete her work with her children before she dies, and many of them need more guidance, which frightens her more than death. Craig T. Nelson’s performance is especially powerful (and a stand out among a brilliant cast), depicting a well worn patriarch facing the rest of his life without his true love.

The Family Stone admittedly drops in quality when director Thomas Bezucha tries to liven up the emotional turmoil with lame slapstick in the finale, but that doesn’t mar what’s a very emotional and touching movie about family. There’s no greater challenge in life than accepting that someone we love is going to die and nothing we can do will keep them with us just a little longer. The Family Stone touches on that brutal turmoil with immense humanity, attesting to the power of family and how they can help us weather the storm. It’s become a Christmas favorite of mine since its 2005 release, and I suggest looking for it if you haven’t, by now.