The Family Stone makes us confront the nuanced, bittersweetness of what family means

It can be an uncomfortable truth to live with family you feel you’re afraid to be your true self with, especially when you don’t know who, exactly, you are.

The Family Stone follows a liberal, college-town family, facing the advent of their prodigal son (Dermot Mulroney) marrying an uptight Manhattan businesswoman (Sarah Jessica Parker) and doing all they can to stop it.

The first time my sister and I saw it, we were gob smacked. The trailers promised us a robust, family movie full of uproarious and irreverent laughter. We got the irreverent laughs, but 15 years later, the film would cultivate an entirely new meaning as well as an entirely new era for family cinema as we knew it.

Everett Stone (Mulroney) returns to his small, college-town to ask his fierce, liberal mom, Sybil (Keaton), for an heirloom ring to bestow upon his soon-to-be fiancée, Meredith (Parker), but only seems to come across countless familial challenges. Meanwhile, Meredith ultimately experiences character growth which leads her to call upon her younger sister, the free-spirited Julie (Claire Danes) to help her save face.

The stubborn Stone family ends up melting upon Julie’s arrival, only adding to Meredith’s jealousy and feelings of displacement. Ultimately, both sisters end up in the arms of the opposite brothers and discovering new facets of themselves.

My favorite part of the film is when Julie and Everett wander around the college-town, while Julie gushes about her love of grant writing for a nonprofit. She doesn’t earn much, but what she does aligns with her soul. This, in turn, reignites Everett’s passion, long lost to Corporate America.

The golden ribbon of this film is its single thread to Meet Me in St. Louis. Suzannah (Elizabeth Reaser) and Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams) drift asleep on their parents’ sofa while watching Judy Garland sing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, set to a misty-eyed montage of Everett finding love with Julie, and Meredith finding love with Ben, all while Thad (Tyrone Giordano) and his husband, Patrick (Brian White), walk home in the snow and dream about their child to be.

In the end, the Stone family cultivates their love for each other in a fierce amber of flawed flawlessness, a golden honey of what it means to be human. The Family Stone has inspired films like Happiest Season, and I hope more, because a lot more indie films should have the same courage to inspire the same messages of love and inclusion for everyone.

This film isn’t simple and refuses to be seen as such. The Family Stone reveals an unflinching look at what family means today: to love as you want to be loved. This is the most tender moment of this film, because without tenderness, there can be no love.

Abby Sheaffer is a contributing writer to Cinema in Paradise. Her past credits include Director of Marketing & Communications for do-over.me, Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Literati, and Editor-in-Chief of The Vignette Review.

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