THE FAMILY STONE

PG-13
Reviews

Diane Keaton's knowing, quirky comic timing is one of the few redeeming features of The Family Stone. Playing Sybil, the dippy matriarch of the Stone family, it's as if Annie Hall had grown up into being a mother, retaining her narcissistic, engaging, self-involved flightiness, even while married to, of all people, stolid Craig T. Nelson. However, even she is stymied by the grossly juvenile conception and execution of writer-director Thomas Bezucha's idea of holiday family farce.

Not content with the rare laughs he elicits through Keaton, Bezucha must add maudlin to the mix by giving her a terminal illness, which is a queasy blend with all the equally tired slapstick comedy he comes up with. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Meredith, an uptight drag of a girl engaged to earnest Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney), the only "normal" member of the family. Meredith's affectations and bigotry trigger the entire strenuously liberal family's resentment against her, which manifests itself in venomous bitchery that outdoes any crime the poor girl may be perceived to have committed.

The farcical elements are much too loaded to provide any real fun, and the Stones come off more as sanctimonious, politically correct left-wing prigs than enchanting. The film evokes the most self-congratulatory passages of Auntie Mame, wherein Mame got to put down those nasty, racist Upsons who were trying to marry off her precious nephew to their snot of a daughter.

Cornily calculated, the script has Meredith bringing in a very convenient, more conventionally "lovely" sister (Claire Danes) for Everett to fall for, while Meredith couples with his unlikely pothead-slacker brother, Ben (Luke Wilson, who, along with Keaton, provides the movie with its only real life). Then there's Thad Stone (Ty Giordano), the gay, deaf son with his perfect black lover Patrick (Brian White), who necessitates a flurry of familial signing which only adds to poor Meredith's feelings of alienation. Typical of Bezucha's overweeningly complacent grasp, Thad and Patrick are drearily presented as the most conventional of characters, wanting only to marry and have children. And let's not forget those Stone sisters, married Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser), who's eternally pregnant, and frustrated Amy (Rachel McAdams), a vindictive witch whom we're supposed to identify with, plus Susannah's bespectacled little girl (Savannah Stehlin), meant to up the adorable factor.

Parker works hard at being unlikable in a role that is a flip-opposite of her ingratiating Carrie Bradshaw character from "Sex and the City," forever clearing her throat in a way that drives the Stones to madness. But the clich├ęs defeat her, especially in a supposedly hilarious, disastrous kitchen moment which leaves her and the whole clan covered with food and completely kerfuffled. Yuck!

-David Noh