So many other questions remain unanswered, too.  Why are Meredith and Everett together, when they have no tenderness?  Why does Everett fall for Julie so quickly, after being dead-sure that he wanted to marry Meredith the day before?  Why does Ben fall for Meredith, when they have absolutely nothing in common?  Why do the kids adore Sybil so much, when she’s over-controlling and tries way too hard to be cool?  And why, in heaven’s name, is their father (Craig T. Nelson, “The District”) acting like he’s the one who’s stoned, being completely passive throughout these crises?

The set-up was good.  Yes, it’s the usual dysfunctional family mishmash during the holidays.  But the acting is stellar all around and, at times, the dialogue is sharp (I especially liked the comment, “You have a freak flag.  You just don’t fly it,” from Ben).  If only director/screenwriter Thomas Bezucha had dared to delve a little deeper, we might have appreciated everything a lot more.  A former fashion executive with Polo/Ralph Lauren, Bezuchas’s only prior film credit is “Big Eden,” which deals with homosexual love.  Here, unfortunately, his message seems to be in the way.

The Stones are presented as the ideal family – one where the parents are wholly accepting of anything their children do.  In addition to a cringe-worthy casual comment about the way her daughter lost her virginity, Sybil also jokes about how she wishes all three of her sons were gay.  Everett’s brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his black lover, Patrick (Brian J. White) are presented as one of the happiest couples in the house, in fact.  Thad is also deaf, which presents yet another message about tolerance and diversity.  Oh, and he and Patrick are trying to adopt. 

As if that’s not enough, we’re also subjected to a lecture about the origins of homosexuality being genetic (vs. environmental), after a tongue-tied Meredith expresses dismay that Sybil would hope for gay sons.  Not because being gay is wrong, of course (“I love the gays!” she later shouts), but because it’s so difficult to be gay when there is so much prejudice.  Instead of being “tolerant” of Meredith’s questions, however, the family becomes furious – and Meredith looks like a bigot.

Just like Meredith’s miraculous transformation, which comes after a night of drunkenness, drug-using and infidelity, I’m just not sure what the lesson is here – except for the one about tolerance.  Although this message doesn’t dominate “The Family Stone,” it’s clearly an important point – certainly more than anything we might extract from the love quadrangle between Meredith, Everett, Julie and Ben, which has little to offer in the way of wisdom.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Unfortunately, when a film aims to preach rather than recount a story (this goes for Christian films as well), integrity often suffers.  Sadly, “The Family Stone” is no exception.  I enjoyed the sets, and I enjoyed the acting all around.  But overall, it was a disappointment.

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:   Several scenes with wine; two characters get very drunk in a bar; one character dances drunkenly, buys a round of drinks for all the bar patrons and asks where they can “score some pot;”  mother scolds son, saying, “No pot in my house!” but in another scene, son smokes marijuana while talking with his father, who does not object (another character later refers to them getting “stoned together”).
  • Language/Profanity:  A dozen or so of both curses and profanities, including one strong ASL “signed” profanity.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Various sexual situations, including couples in bed together (no nudity), frank discussion about sleeping together and “screwing,” and a vulgar euphemism for a young woman losing her virginity, spoken approvingly by the mother and later repeated by another character.
  • Violence:  Two male characters get into a mild fight; others have an accidental fall; some fighting.