The Stone Family is one of those big, lovably eccentric American movie clans that date back as far as Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It With You." Matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton), professor dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) and their colorful brood are warm, life-embracing, gay-friendly, middle-class New England bohemians. Just the sort of folks, in other words, that give social conservatives nightmares. In the sentimental comedy "The Family Stone," the Stones gather to celebrate the holidays and to meet eldest son Everett's (Dermot Mulroney) bride-to-be, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Unfortunately for Meredith, she's everything the Stones despise, an uptight, dressed-for-success New York careerist who doesn't like to hug. "They hate me!" she wails to her fiance after her first disastrous encounter. She's got that right. Edgy youngest daughter Amy (Rachel McAdams) doesn't even try to hide her contempt. West Coast slacker son Ben (Luke Wilson) is aghast, in his stoned-out way. Mom's mortified that a child of her loins would marry such a type-A prig.
Meredith gets into deeper trouble when this supposedly sophisticated New Yorker makes homophobic remarks that insult the fussed-over youngest son, Thad (Ty Giordano), who is gay, deaf and accompanied by his African-American lover (Brian White). The Stones respond with righteous fury, rushing to assure Thad how much they love him. All this proves that writer-director Thomas Bezucha is on the side of the angels--and all of it rings utterly false. Thad wouldn't need consolation: he's surrounded by the most supportive family in New England! And one of the smuggest.
Having scored his points off Meredith, Bezucha then sets about redeeming her through convenient matchmaking. Meredith, distraught, calls her sister to come to the rescue, only to watch Sis fall for her beau. From the second Everett lays eyes on the lovely Julie (Claire Danes), we know what's coming. (We also know Julie is a Good Person because she chooses arts grants for the Rockefeller Foundation.) What Julie sees in the lugubrious Everett is a mystery. Even more curious is the pot-smoking Ben's sudden infatuation with Meredith, whose "inner freak" he glimpses. That must be some mighty good weed.
Lurching uncertainly from slapstick to tears (did I forget to mention the Fatal Illness that afflicts one Stone member?), "The Family Stone" works hard to warm the cockles of our hearts. The cast is attractive. The sentiments are commendable. But the love Bezucha wants us to feel for the family couldn't possibly compete with the love they already feel for themselves.