The Family Stone Thomas Bezucha

This is one of those pretty good movies that get dumbed down in the trailer but then come as a nice surprise. Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a high-achieving woman uncomfortable in the world and in her own skin (in the trailer, this just reads as "uptight”) who gets plunged into her boyfriend’s self-absorbed, complicated, insular, sad family (in the trailer: "quirky”) for that trial of all relationships: the family Christmas. The Family Stone are as painfully unwelcoming as Meredith is unlikable, but over the course of the holiday they learn more about themselves than each other, and all make important decisions about where they are going in their lives. A premise that could lead to sentiment and cliché is saved by an intelligent script that paints family life in a complex and often uncomfortable way. Writer/Director Thomas Bezucha gets excellent performances out of a rich ensemble cast headed by Diane Keaton as the manipulative (and terminally ill) mother, Craig T. Nelson as her milder, often befuddled husband and Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Elizabeth Reaser and Rachel McAdams as their children. Even SJP does some decent acting, creating a fragile and terrified character that we can’t quite like or understand but who certainly fascinates. And she is one of the defter hands at the comedy in the ensemble, particularly in what is probably one of the most cringe-worthy dinner scenes in recent memory. Not that this is a masterpiece; it’s not. The film runs into real problems of genre — billed as a comedy, it is dreadfully serious and sad. And yet it is not a dark comedy; it’s just sad and funny at the same time, often unsuccessfully. At its worst it veers off into incongruous slapstick; at its best it feels like a real family Christmas: awkward, hysterical, and weird. Plus: commentaries by SJP, Dermot Mulroney and by the production team; Q & A session with the cast; deleted scenes; several featurettes. (Fox)