The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

The  Family Stone (2005)
Directed by Thomas Bezucha
Rated PG-13
Starring: Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Luke Wilson

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
Uptight Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is going home for Christmas with her boyfriend Everett (Dermot Mulroney) to meet his liberal, anything-goes family for the first time. With things getting off on the wrong foot and everyone in his family seemingly despising her, she calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for support. But when Julie arrives, things only get more complicated and tense in this movie about love and family set around the holidays.

Beneath the Surface:
Problems abound in this movie. Let’s start with the first big theme: love. Even if a relationship is ultimately to fall apart, it must first be established that something exists between the two people  to have a relationship in the first place. But there is no reason given why Meredith and Everett are together, no indication given of how or even why their relationship works, and Meredith is shown in such a negative light from the beginning that you wonder why Everett would even want to be with her, essentially proving the audience and his family right. (We’ll get to them in a moment.) But these “Duck out of Water” scenarios work much better when the duck is given some humanity and sympathy, thus allowing us to see the good in her even while others around her can not.

And then there’s the problem with the ease with which these siblings switch partners. No man in his right mind would so blatantly flirt with his brother’s girlfriend, and no man in his right mind  would make such strong overtures to his girlfriend’s sister the very first time he meets her. It’s patently ridiculous, and undermines any message of love that the movie is trying to convey.

As for the family: for the most part, they are shown as a completely unlikable, snobby, holier-than-thou bunch of jerks, doing the unthinkable: making the thoroughly off-putting Meredith seem like the lesser of two evils. The family is supposed to be this liberal, open, loving group of people, but presented with even the slightest hint of someone different and they completely shut her out and make her feel small and unwelcome. No warm feelings of being home for the holidays here.

The movie finds a bit of redemption in the third act (Christmas Day) in two moments. First, Meredith gives everyone in the family the perfect gift, warming their hearts and perhaps showing them the error of their way. The moment is particularly strong in showing the true meaning of gift giving, often lost on many a Christmas morning. The perfect gift is a demonstration of the intimacy with which the giver knows the receiver and, by extension, an expression of his or her love for the other. This scene is easily the best in the movie, and the only to illicit any strong emotion.

The second moment comes a few beats later, as everything is finally crumbling down around them, and they all come to the realization that none of them are better than anyone else, but they’re all each other have, and so they must stick together. This is the message that the movie is ultimately trying to drive at, but it’s too little, too late, and the moment, while touching, does little to reverse the damage the family has inflicted the previous hour, and doesn’t excuse the lousy ways in which they have all acted.

The movie is funny enough and has some strong laughs, but if you want to see a good movie about family and love with real depth and emotion (and even bigger laughs) set around a holiday (Thanksgiving), rent Dan In Real Life.

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 6 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 4 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 7 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 3 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 5 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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