fri 28/11/2014

12 Films of Christmas: The Family Stone | Film reviews, news & interviews

12 Films of Christmas: The Family Stone

Sarah Jessica Parker heads, um, "home" for a New England holiday

What would Carrie do now: Sarah Jessica Parker takes in her in-laws as Craig T Nelson snaps a pic

Thank heavens for Christmas, without which where would narrative be? Not that I'm sure Sarah Jessica Parker's uptight, brittle Meredith Morton has much to be thankful for in The Family Stone, as the Manhattan careerist braves her boyfriend's family gathering in New England for what seems destined to be the holiday from hell. Well, until such time as the laws of Tinseltown work their drearily inevitable "magic", and everyone is paired up faster than you can say Manolo Blahnik.

In fact, writer-director Thomas Bezucha's 2005 film was intended as a star vehicle for Parker fresh off the phenomenon that was Sex and the City. But Carrie Bradshaw's leap to celluloid plays second fiddle to the ongoing glory of Diane Keaton, here cast as the sort of in-law you'd be unlikely to love but, boy, is she fun to watch on screen. Smiling her bespectacled way through various comments of increasingly outlandish hue, Keaton reminds us once more that her ineffably daffy Annie Hall co-exists with an actress of cascading wit, and intelligence to match. Were anyone ever to rewrite Hay Fever for an American clan, Keaton would make a blissful Judith Bliss. 

As it is, the actress presides over the film in much the same way that her liberal-minded matriarch, Sybil Stone, watches over a brood that includes Rachel McAdams as one of Dermot Mulroney's more toxic siblings and Luke Wilson as the stoner-brother who has more going for him than is first apparent. That there's also a gay deaf son with a black boyfriend might seem to be ticking every available minority box if that particular couple weren't too bland to merit much interest of any kind. Instead, one watches as Parker's buttoned-up Meredith circles a clan that by the film's end she will have learned to infiltrate, but not before her younger sister Julie (a pre-Homeland Claire Danes) pops into view. As for Keaton's multifaceted Sybil, here's a mum worth getting to know in any context. Over a turkey dinner, it helps to have a tough cookie on hand.

Diane Keaton reminds us once more that her ineffably daffy Annie Hall co-exists with an actress of cascading wit, and intelligence to match

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