Thomas Bezucha’s big family drama-comedy The Family Stone sets its tone pretty early on, with eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) bringing his long-time girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for the holidays. She’s apprehensive about meeting his family en masse, but she’s going to do her darndest to make a good impression – even though younger sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) has already been knocking and mocking Meredith to the assembled Stones. (“She’s got this ... throat-clearing tick. It’s like she’s digging for clams!”) Pausing in the foyer after she’s been introduced, Meredith tries to make a compliment: “You have a lovely home.” Everett’s mom Sibyl (Diane Keaton) shines a thin, polite smile: “All the better to entertain you with, my dear.”
Meredith’s up against the Big, Bad WASP, and the rest of the numerous and slightly lunatic Stones. Complicating matters is that Everett intends to ask his mom for a family heirloom – Sibyl’s mother’s wedding ring – so he can propose to Meredith. Sibyl isn’t crazy about that idea; as we and the other Stones learn, Sibyl’s obsessing about her mom’s ring in spite of the fact – or, more accurately, because of the fact -- she has bigger things to worry about.
Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, The Family Stone is as sprawling and messy as the clan at its center, with characters and plotlines and scenes tumbling over each other. Like an overstuffed Christmas turkey that could be breeding salmonella, The Family Stone gets warm, but it’s so crowded and busy that it never really attains the kind of heat that could make sure it isn’t toxically clever and cute. To begin with, the Stone family is big – there’s Everett, Amy, Sibyl, dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), bohemian film editor Ben (Luke Wilson), pregnant Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and littlest brother Thad (Ty Giordano), who’s brought home his partner Patrick (Brian White). And once Meredith’s constant shoving of her foot into her mouth forces her to move to the local inn and call home for emotional support, her sister Julie (Claire Danes) arrives and adds further complications. Bezucha knows how to assemble a big cast; he just doesn’t know how to give them anything to do.