Our Holiday Favorites: The Family Stone

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THe Family StoneThe best holiday film fare for me is always a mix of the worst of humanity along with the best. What would It's a Wonderful Life be without George and that old Building and Loan having to suffer through the travails of greed and incompetence? And How the Grinch Stole Christmas would not be anywhere near as heartening if the Grinch wasn't so callous to his dog, or so feisty about making the Whos in Whoville miserable. And that's part of why The Family Stone is one of my guilty pleasure holiday traditions.

I didn't mean to make it one, but I admit I was intrigued by the particularly expressive finger on the teaser poster. The trailers featured a snarky Rachel McAdams thwacking the back of one brother's head only to get thwacked herself by another. And with the premise of ferocious family dynamics over a fiancee? That's not only comedy gold but very relatable.

Eons ago when I still lived in Boston, a family dinner introducing a step-sibling's fiancée proved to be darkly entertaining. Despite the pretense of a well-mannered gathering, many claws were outstretched and flexing on the stoically thick-skinned woman. The same is true with the Stone family, who all clearly love each other yet have no disillusions about each other’s flaws. When the eldest son brings his girlfriend home, the fur starts to fly as her neuroses alienate everyone.

Unlike broader comedies, The Family Stone takes a humorous look at the dysfunction behind the dynamics. Mom is reticent about handing over an heirloom ring because no one could be good enough for her firstborn. The youngest sister's maliciousness masks a vulnerability familiar to anyone whose had to live in the shadow of their family. And of course there are all manner of family secrets.

While The Family Stone ultimately is a bittersweet holiday tale, it doesn't sugarcoat the relationships. Instead, it's a refreshingly tart example of "warts and all" love that balances out the sweet in a season that so often induces a diabetic coma.

Want to watch? The Family Stone is available at Encore, I Luv Video and Vulcan Video. You also can rent the movie via Amazon Instant Video.