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20th Century Fox presents

The Family Stone (2005)

Meredith: What's so great about you guys?
Sybil: Nothing. It's just that, we're all that we've got.- Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton

Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton
Other Stars: Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson
Director: Thomas Bezucha

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and drug references
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: 2006-05-02
Genre: romantic comedy

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BB+B+ B-

 

DVD Review

The Family Stone reminds us that holidays are the one time of year we are forced to spend with our families, whether we want to or not. In the movies, or at least in screwball comedies like this one, it's usually "not," since no audience wants to spend time with a family that actually gets along (don't they know how obnoxious that is?). It closely resembles a lot of other movies, chief among them Junebug and especially Pieces of April. It's jumbled and crammed with too many characters and plotlines and contrived situations, but it sticks closely enough to the established formula that it's still worth seeing if this is your thing.

This is a movie not about characters, but familiar types. As we begin, Everett (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet the folks. She's nervous, and with good reason—her character is so quickly established as shrewish and unhappy, even she must realize it (maybe her hair is too tight—Parker isn't exactly a conventional beauty, and this movie does her no favors). Thanks to Everett's sister Amy (Rachel McAdams), the only member of the family who's met Meredith, his mother Sybil (Diane Keaton) has already decided she doesn't like her future daughter-in-law. Their meeting does nothing to change her mind.

The family includes a lot more members—a few too many, and each with a subplot. There's affable dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), who knows it's probably best to let his wife do all the talking, and Everett's brothers, laid-back Ben (Luke Wilson) and Thad (Ty Giordano), who is gay and deaf and that's it, I guess, as far as the movie is concerned, since all his scenes revolve around said. Then there's Thad's partner Patrick (Brian White) and, oops, yet another Stone, sister Susie (Elizabeth Reaser), and her daughter.

Meredith has a way of running off at the mouth and saying exactly the wrong thing, and her efforts to get along with the family go about as well as you'd expect. Everyone is baffled by her insistence to sleep apart from Everett; she thinks she's being proper but everyone just thinks it's annoying, especially Amy, who has to give up her room. Later, during dinner, Meredith sends entirely the wrong message when she isn't quite able to articulate what she means when saying homosexuals face hurdles that heterosexuals do not. The Stones seem to delight in taking offense, especially Sybil, who, we learn, has a very good reason for wanting to make sure her firstborn son has settled into a happy relationship.

In a panic, Meredith soon calls in her own sister, Julie (Claire Danes), who arrives and proves to be Meredith's opposite. She is, of course, instantly beloved. From there, the movie follows a not unexpected formula, with lots of couples chasing each other around the house for various reasons (engagement rings get stuck on the wrong person's finger at the most inopportune moments), a few Three's Company-style misunderstandings, and a romantic resolution that would make no sense at all if it hadn't already happened in a dozen other movies.

First time writer/director Thomas Bezucha has obviously studied the genre, though, and the movie certainly has its charms. For every superfluous plotline, there's a moment or two of truth. Sybil and Kelly share an unspoken bond, the comfortable familiarity of two people who have been together for longer than they'd lived before they met. Seeing the way the couple deals with a certain sad truth gives the movie its heart, and excuses a lot of the zanier or contrived moments. The dialogue is pretty sharp and the thin characters actually turn out to be an advantage, because it means they all have neat and tidy emotional arcs, lending the tearjerker ending weight and resonance. This isn't a great movie, but it is a comfortable one, just the kind of thing you'll want to enjoy during the holidays.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Family Stone looks fine on DVD. The image is a bit soft, but colors are rich and warm and darker scenes show good shadow detail. There is some visible grain, but no noticeable edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Family Stone receives the standard, low-key drama mix, with dialogue front and center and songs and the score filling out the mix. Surrounds are used mostly for atmosphere.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Little Manhattan, Just My Luck
6 Deleted Scenes
4 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford, and production designer Jane Ann Stewart; stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reel
Extras Review: The Family Stone is one of those movies that, as far as I'm concerned, doesn't really need too many extras, and if you're of like mind, nothing here is really worth checking out. But if you're a big fan of the film, you'll probably enjoy what's offered.

Most substantial is the feature commentary with writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford, and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. Bezucha has the most to offer, talking about what it took to get the movie produced semi-independently, while the other speakers comment on their perspective roles. With so many speakers, sometimes I forgot who was who, but it was still an OK listen, if a bit on the fawning side (apparently, so-and-so is SO good in such-and-such scene). The other commentary, with actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney, is a light-hearted, less in-depth discussion of the process from the actor's point of view.

A collection of short featurettes covers pretty standard territory in limited detail. Casting Session and World Premiere, both courtesy of the Fox Movie Channel (motto: All your favorite films, except edited and in fullscreen), focus on the casting process and the movie's red carpet debu... Yawn. Sorry, I dozed off in the middle of that sentence.

Behind the Scenes is a little more interesting, examining the making of the film via interviews with the cast and director and such. Finally, Q&A Session with the Cast at the Screen Actor's Guild Theatre (and yes, SAG has a "theatre," not a "theater") offers a few brief comments from the major players, who discuss their characters and what drew them to the project.

Bezucha and editor Jeffrey Ford provide optional commentary for six deleted scenes, none of which are what I'd consider significant deletions, but they're not bad. There's also an amusing gag reel, the trailer, and the recipe for the Morton family strata that Sarah Jessica Parker's character cooks and ends up wearing, and no one in the film actually eats.

It's also worth mentioning that all of the extras are subtitled.

Extras Grade: B-
 

Final Comments

An overstuffed holiday comedy, The Family Stone is a skillful spin on a well-established formula. Despite paper-thin characters and utterly contrived romantic conflicts, it has a great cast, some funny dialogue, and a subtle, wistful ending that packs an emotional wallop.

Joel Cunningham 2006-05-02