The Family Stone

Directed by Thomas Bezucha
Twentieth Century Fox
2 Stars

Sarah Jessica Parker wants you to hate her. In fact, she really wants you to hate her.

As Meredith Morton, a prissy and uptight executive, meeting her boyfriend Everett Stone’s (Dermot Mulroney) parents for the first time, in “The Family Stone” Parker channels a woman more Bree Van Der Camp (of “Desperate Housewives”) than Carrie Bradshaw.

There is a fine line between humiliation and degradation, and “Stone” teeters across that line precariously. It strings the audience along through a painfully awkward holiday movie that never finds an appropriate medium between comedy and drama.

The Stone family is a stereotypical New England, bohemian-bourgeoisie brood with Craig T. Nelson (“Coach” and, most recently, the voice of Mr. Incredible in “The Incredibles”) as the patriarch and Hollywood’s hip-mom actress Diane Keaton (“Something’s Gotta Give”) as the matriarch.

The film chronicles Meredith’s first encounter with meeting the parents, and like the Ben Stiller movie, there are squeamish scenes aplenty as she fails to capture the hearts of the family Stone. It’s a tortuous ordeal—but Parker’s character is just such a bitch, you understand why the Stone family hates her and seriously wonder why Everett fell for her in the first place.

After one awkward spat too many with the Stones, Meredith beckons her younger sister Julie (Claire Danes) to join the fun and help smooth things over; unsurprisingly, incestuous, goggly-eyed sibling flirtation ensues between Julie and her sister’s fiancé, while Meredith starts to fall for Everettt’s own brother.

The biggest problem in the movie is Meredith, an over-the-top example of female strength gone awry. Parker’s traded-in her trademark Manohlos, cosmopolitans, and oversized flower pins for an unflattering corporate attire. Meredith is a woman more comfortable in trousers with her hair in a bun. She might as well be chewing on a cigar. It’s possible that Parker is trying to move out of her “Sex and the City” days, but this frigid ice queen role departs too far from Dolce & Gabbana, where she seems much more comfortable.

In a thankless role, Mulroney does his same ordinary guy schtick played out in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “The Wedding Date.” His relationship with Meredith is a bleak picture of yuppie romance. Mulroney’s allegedly playful smirk and his unfortunate habit of talking out of one side of his mouth gets old quickly.

Luke Wilson, reprising his aw-shucks persona, is equally ineffective as Mulroney’s brother, Ben Stone. Supposedly the most bohemian of his clan, he is also the most boring. In films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Old School” Wilson has always been, in my mind, the weakest link. That trend continues throughout this film.

Next to the ever-talented Rachel McAdams as the youngest sister, both Mulroney and Wilson look especially bad.

McAdams once again plays a mean girl we can’t help but love. Immediately finding fault with Meredith, the littlest Stone is ruthlessly cruel, but in a charming way. McAdams is coming off a high year in Hollywood that hopefully won’t be impeded with dredge like this. Her natural screen presence is reminiscent of, appropriately enough, Keaton.

The interaction between Keaton and McAdams is the film’s only saving grace, but both these actresses deserve much better fare. Their warm smiles are bright spots amongst the villainous Meredith and the oafish duo of Wilson and Mulroney.

“The Family Stone” is not the warm, holiday movie or romantic comedy it is billed to be, and unless you’re looking to end your own romance by dragging your date to this, you’re better off staying at home and watching Parker before she lost her Prada and her personality in the “Sex and the City” DVD.