The Family Stone

Opens Fri., Dec. 16, at Metro and others.

Sarah Jessica Parker wore a lot of great outfits in Sex and the City, but leave it to Tom Bezucha to dress her in casserole. Or blintz. Or whatever. I'm not enough of a foodie to care about the particulars of the recipe employed in her pratfall. But Bezucha, whose main professional qualification before directing 2000's rural gay fantasia Big Eden was working for Coach and Ralph Lauren, certainly knows the difference. Parker here enters a different kind of Eden—the liberal, close-knit Stone family household—as the fiancée of its first-born golden child (Dermot Mulroney). If she's Jewish or Republican, Bezucha won't specify; it's damning enough that she's ambitious, from New York, and well dressed, which puts her at odds with the entire preppy New England clan. (Yes, it's like Meet the Fockers crossed with the crazy WASP family in Annie Hall; only here everyone is, unfortunately, too sensitive to be crazy—or funny.) For the record, the Stones are father Craig T. Nelson, mother Diane Keaton, hippie daughter Rachel McAdams (note the NPR tote bag and battered Volvo!), slacker Luke Wilson, a gay deaf son (domestically partnered to a black guy!), and an unhappily married daughter with granddaughter.

Sorry if that long lineage trails off into vagueness, but Bezucha's working method is as elegantly vague as foxhound wall-paper, as studded with platitudes as fruit cake. Why do there have to be so many characters, so many children? Haven't these progressive Stones heard of birth control? (And, for that matter, couldn't we have swapped a few of these kids for a golden retriever, to save us the trouble of remembering names and back stories?) During the interminable Christmas weekend gathering, poor Parker is tortured by the Stones for her urban other-ness; so she flashes the Bat-signal for her younger sister (Claire Danes) to come to her rescue. Then, inevitably, all the Stones (especially Mulroney) fall for the newcomer's charms—leaving Parker out in the cold (except for Wilson, the excellently unhurried opportunist). The wrong brothers are hooking up with the wrong sisters! Wacky! Oh, and there's also cancer, marital trouble, adoption, and the (mistaken) charge of homophobia—an entire season's worth of sitcom plotting packed into three Christmas-wreathed days. It's like Will & Will & Will & Will & Grace.

At a certain point I had to ask, What is the Stones' fucking problem with Parker's character? Her besetting sin seems to be that she's "uptight," which the movie solves with the addition of tequila shots and Motown tunes. Wreck a Saab, take a few tokes, do a drunken dance, wake up in the wrong bed—and all the world's (or the Stones') problems are solved. This is a movie where Parker must, yes, let her hair down in order to let her hair down. All that fashion catalog training taught Bezucha to value manufactured sentimentality over authentic expressions of spite and discomfort about the loved ones of those we love. His movie resembles nothing so much as a tastefully decorated Christmas tree made of everlasting plastic. (PG-13)

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