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The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook
Somewhere, someone is having a perfect Christmas

. "The Family Stone"

They're making comedy out of a lot of things these days. This family scene around Christmas, however, is not exactly your warm hearth and comforting environment.

The difference this year from prior ones is that eldest son Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is adding someone, his girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), who he plans to marry. In fact, this will be his opportunity to get mom's ring, which she promised him when he decided on a girl. More about that later.

Meredith, for her part, is dreadfully afraid of the reception she's going to get from Everett's family. There's no explanation for this professional gal with the swept down hairdo and buttoned down personality to have such a dread anticipation, except perhaps that she read the script. In any case, Churchill wasn't more prescient when he anticipated an invasion by Hitler.

Sure enough mom, Sybil (Diane Keaton), takes an immediate dislike to her and goes through the motions of welcoming her. Daughter Amy, Ev's sister, a mean-spirited brat to the core, scorns and mocks Meredith, loudly and clearly to be sure that everyone joins in the humiliation of the family intruder. But, it only gets worse when Meredith, overly indicating her up tight nature in a way no one can miss, refuses to sleep with Everett in his parents' home and gets Amy's bedroom, sending Amy to the sofa. You think things are going to get ugly... just wait.

In this thickening brew are dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) who tends to be more level-headed about the prevailing disdain for Everett's chosen than Sybil and Amy, Ev's pregnant sister Susannah, who is mostly a non-entity, brother Thad, who is deaf and gay, requiring the family to sign. He's brought along his lover Patrick (Brian J. White). And, late-comer to the shenanigans, brother Ben (Luke Wilson), who is something of a wild seed but essentially decent.

Off screen until she arrives as emergency support for Meredith is her sis Julie (Claire Danes).

Now, while Amy won't stop with her insults and behavioral abuses, and Everett's demand for the ring from mom is refused on the basis that she doesn't like his choice, and while things go from bad to worse as Meredith hangs in for the abuse, writer-director springs the most inorganic story contivance of the year by bringing Everett together with Julie, and Ben together with Meredith, where the seeds of a stronger attraction take root.

When Everett is refused the ring, he goes out and buys one--a whopper. (A stone for a Stone--get it? In case you don't, we'll knock you on the head with it in our poster) While his marriage to Meredith is still on the books, (but really "on-the-rocks") he asks Julie to try it on. The sister of the bride-to-be tries on the engagement-wedding ring? What's going on? From all the mooning and cooing looks between the new lineup of couples this idiocy doesn't come as a surprise. The only surprise is bound to be the great numbers of people who will ignore the story logic and premise with all its tasteless prejudice and anti-holiday spirit at its foundation to make the film's investment back. Unfortunately, these folks, including some critics, who will think this manual of backbiting is light and funny.

As though to allay criticism Bezucha craftily adds weighty meaning and relevance by pasting his Christmas trifle with "issues." Mom is dying, brother is deaf and gay, he and his saintly black boyfriend (who have just about nothing to do with the main story line) adopt a black infant, etc., etc. Nothing like a little poignancy to mask a distasteful Christmas brew.

Parker exhibits considerable romantic-comedic skill in avoiding the obstacle course of the situation while providing it its primary target. Nelson is solid. Danes is wanting. And, in however wretched a character construction, Rachel McAdams is hot. You may hate her here but, when she's on screen, she claims the limelight.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney and Diane Keaton
Not exactly your good first impression.
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