In Which I Attempt to Review a Movie and Prove Why I Am Not Employed as a Critic [ 2005-12-29, 11:14 a.m. ]

Friday nights have evolved (devolved?) into a routine of sushi and a movie: we go to dinner at a favorite spot on Court Street which conveniently has a BYOB policy, we marvel at the low bill when it arrives, we head across the street for a movie, we are home and in bed by midnight. Last Friday we shook things up a bit by seeing the movie FIRST, then grabbing a bottle of white wine and heading in for dinner.

We hadn’t planned on sushi, but I think Kent felt obligated to take me out for my favorite food, seeing as how I could barely see straight on account of the complete hysterical meltdown I had during the movie. With tears, heaving sobs, dripping snotty noses and that awful UCH GACHT RHAWCH BLURCH GAHHHH sound that comes when you are already crying and feeling emotionally fragile and then maybe someone tells you a story about a puppy that got hit by a car or some retarded babies or something, and you totally lose your shit.

So, it turns out that The Family Stone is not so much a comedy.

Now, men don’t seem to understand that when a woman sobs her way through a movie, it does not mean she didn’t like the movie. It often means she loved the movie, in fact. Crying is not a bad thing; it’s like working out, and sometimes you really need to feel the burn in order to enjoy the endorphins. As my friend Beck and I say, we like a movie that leaves us feeling as if someone walked up to us on the street and punched us in the gut.

Which is why I am able to tell you that while The Family Stone isn’t so much a GOOD movie, I really liked watching it and kind of want to see it again. My husband, not so much. When we left the theater he turned to me and said, Well, that wasn’t like Meet the Parents at all

I knew the movie was not a comedy. I knew because Caroline had called me after seeing it and said, You HAVE to see this movie, it’s EXCRUTIATING to watch…and Jay had called me after seeing it and said, You HAVE to see this movie, go with your mother and cry your eyes out…

But I did not tell that to Kent, who fell victim to the bait-and-switch advertising campaign and sat there cringing through much of the movie, and attempting to console me through the rest.

Here is the part where I try to review the movie: I liked The Family Stone, I thought the acting was good and the idea was good and the set design was actually quite excellent because the house looked properly lived-in, and I liked the uncomfortable parts and I liked the sad parts and I liked the concept of a movie showing just how shitty it is when you feel like you do not fit in somewhere but desperately want to.

I am all in favor of the dramedy or tragic comedy or whatever the hell the genre might be considered, and yes, parts of the movie were laugh-out-loud hilarious. But I have one major complaint (and two minor ones), and in order to address it/them, I will have to spoil some of the movie so consider yourselves warned, although it’s not like The Family Stone is The Sixth Sense or anything.

The beef I have with the movie, or maybe with Hollywood in general, is that they could not leave well enough alone, meaning Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Meredith, was clearly shown to be a bad match for her boyfriend (Everett), who brings her home for Christmas to meet his family. They are not soulmates. Much of the movie revolves around his family making it clear to each other, to Meredith, to the audience, to everyone, that they are not soulmates. Fine. Meredith clicks with Eccentric Pothead Younger Brother (Luke Wilson, who totally needs to call me…), sparks fly – sort of, she and the boyfriend realize they are not soulmates. Again, fine. But the screenwriters had to throw in another character for Everett to fall in love with, because otherwise he is jilted and SJP is That Woman, the one who ditches one brother for another, and I guess that was too messy or maybe left her too unlikable or something, but it really bothered me. Claire Danes shows up (and is a lovely breath of fresh air, don’t get me wrong – the girl has a strangely long torso and is a home-wrecker herself but looked great in this movie) as Julie, Meredith’s younger “artsy” sister (because people who work in the arts are never uptight or shrill, both of which are Meredith’s unforgivable crimes), Everett falls for Julie while Meredith is [fabulously] relaxing with the Eccentric Pothead Younger Brother, yadda yadda yadda, the two couples switch and no one’s feelings are hurt.

It’s tidy and I absolutely adored the scenes with Luke Wilson and SJP, but it really bothered me that an entire other romance was written into the story, seemingly just for symmetry’s sake, because even if the character of Julie had been lifted clean out of the movie, the story is still strong. And I am certainly not planning any sibling-switching of my own, but I felt somewhat offended by the lengths the movie went to in order to justify Meredith and Everett’s break-up. That two adults (and I mean ADULTS…both actors are in their 40’s, no?) cannot simply break up and remain likeable in the movie seems ridiculous, especially in Meredith’s case, because for some reason, everything is Her Fault – but she deserves it, see, because she talks on her cell phone while shopping and encourages her boyfriend to wear ties at home.

What exactly am I trying to say? That is pisses me off when Hollywood can’t let women be flawed and messy and real. Let Meredith end up with the other brother and let Everett be alone; we don’t need her sister as a band-aid to make Meredith less culpable. Shit happens, people date the wrong men and the wrong women and sometimes are able to find the right men and the right women and while I appreciate the sentiment of Everett finding his “right woman” just as Meredith is finding her “right man,” I wish the movie had just let her be the screwy chick who swapped brothers at Christmas. Her story and her dynamic with the Eccentric Pothead Younger Brother (again, CALL ME LUKE) was sooooo much funnier and more interesting than that of Everett and Julie.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, on account of relating all too well with Meredith’s character (sadly, there is no younger brother among my in-laws, pothead or otherwise). Sure, I’m not a High Powered Female Executive With Business Suits, and sure, my in-laws are not Liberal New England Academic Types Who Listen to NPR, but OY, did I relate to that feeling of stepping into someone’s home and feeling cloaked in Wrongness. I’ve been there with the bitchy sister-in-law, and I’ve been there with the uncomfortable dinners, and I’ve been there with the “Who is this woman and how dare she think she knows our son better than we do” treatment. I’ve also been there with the awkward “We think your political views are hooey” moments and the mothers who don’t want to cut the umbilical cord to their [grown] sons. I’ve been there. And like Meredith, I have stood, defeated, and cried out, BUT I’M A GOOD PERSON…

And for all those moments, I loved the movie. I loved the scene of her getting drunk with the younger brother, and I loved her trying SOOO hard, even though the harder she tried the worse things got. And I cried like a baby when she handed out her Christmas gifts to the entire family, cried hard and put my hands over my face while I sobbed and the two teenage bitches next to me snickered and laughed because they are just CHILDREN and can’t begin to understand what I was feeling, not while they were texting their friends on their Sidekicks and debating sneaking into King Kong.

I’m still not sure if I can call The Family Stone a “good” movie, but it’s the kind of movie I could watch over and over again, even though there is no good reason for the gay son to be deaf (or the deaf son to be gay, I guess, depending on how you look at it), and even though the matriarch is a total fucking bitch, which makes for a complicated tear-jerker of an ending (those are my other two complaints about the film). But like I tried to tell my husband over sushi, enjoying a movie and loving a movie are not necessarily the same things. I felt like I had been beat up by the end of it, but beat up in a good way. Really. I swear.

Now I am going to go call my mommy and tell her I miss her.


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