One of the best adult family Christmas films ever. Many have tried both before and after the arrival of this film to create a good, chaotic, warm, loving family dramedy. Crazy, Stupid, Love is another great example of this, but it’s not a Christmas movie, nor is it a film that takes place all on one holiday or family vacation (a staple of these kinds of films). They rarely hit the right beats thanks to trying to carry so many different storylines. There are always seems to be one storyline that is not meant to be solely for humor but is treated that way and it throws off the tone of everything else.
The Family Stone is the best of its kind because it leans into the notes audiences love (holiday spirit, isolated location, sibling rivalry, a fish-out-of-water, earned melodramatic moments, cute-meets, etc.) and also fills the space on the screen. Every inch of Kelly and Sybil Stone’s home is filled with something, and every line of dialogue or actions on screen has a clear purpose.
Writer-director Thomas Bezucha has a clear and cohesive plan for this story and he doesn’t waste a moment of it. This makes breaking down the script very tricky. You can always pick out a couple people as the driving force in an ensemble film, and from that the protagonist, but when one beat plays on multiple storylines and the driving force in a scene flips, it can make an emotional arc hard to track.
This film has two main protagonists: Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who start off the film as a couple, but completely implode from the moment the film begins.
Protagonist A: Meredith
Want: To win over Everett’s family
Need: To relax
Protagonist B: Everett Stone
Want: To propose to Meredith
Need: Stop trying to be perfect
Antagonist A: Amy, Everett’s sister (more of the antagonist for Meredith)
Antagonist B: Sybil, Everett’s mom (more of the antagonist for Everett)
Pre-Existing Life: Meredith can’t stop work calls as she and Everette shop for Christmas gifts. She jumps in to correct his choice of scarf for his sister and he hangs up her phone and forces to her to focus on what they’re doing.
The family arrives for Christmas including Sybil (matriarch), Kelly (patriarch), Susannah (older daughter), Elizabeth (Susannah’s daughter), Thad (younger son), Patrick (Thad’s husband), and Amy (baby of the family). They don’t know where Ben (middle son) is and are eagerly awaiting Meredith and Everett’s arrival. They ask Amy, the only one who’s met Meredith, what she thinks of her and Meredith “hates her”. Sybil eats up the gossip.
Meredith and Everett fight over where to sleep, as she doesn’t think it’s appropriate to share a room at his parent’s house. Amy is forced to give up her room at Everett’s request. Meredith apologizes to Everett and he says he’s not mad. She sees his old trophies and he dismisses them. He’s understanding as she admires how perfect-looking a couple they are in the mirror. Ben arrives. Everyone runs out to greet him, and he’s enamored when he sees Meredith.
Inciting Incident: Meredith tells the story of how she and Everett met. She talks endlessly. Everett tells about the cultural trip he was taking, which everyone is much more interested in than the story of how they met. They tease Everett for not relaxing and continuing to wear his perfect time. They play charades. During Meredith’s turn, Amy picks out a mean clue, and Meredith comes across as racist when she points at Patrick, the only Black person in the room. Amy calls her out loudly and Meredith walks out. Meredith vents to Everett and thinks he’s turning on her. He tries to calm her down but she’s not listening.
Plot Push / 1st Act Decision: Sybil teases Amy about Brad Stevenson, telling Meredith that Brad “popped Amy’s cherry” and he still has a crush on Amy. Meredith tries to be apologetic with Amy and stand up for herself, but Amy’s not having it. Meredith decides to go to stay at the inn. (Meredith’s decision) Everett confronts his family about Meredith is staying at the inn and her sister, Julie, is coming in too. No one speaks up and takes responsibility, so he lays down the law that they need to behave. Everett asks his mom for the family ring and reminds her of the promise that she made him years ago. Sybil refuses and Everett is pissed.
Meredith is prepping breakfast for Christmas morning as an act of good will and a piece of home for her sister. Sybil relaxes towards her and starts being polite. Everett and Thad go shopping for Christmas rings. Thad begs Everett not to propose to Meredith. Everett declares he’s going to marry (Everett’s decision) (note: he doesn’t say he’s going to marry her).
Reversal: Thad and Everett pick up Julie at the bus station, he’s immediately enamored. She trips coming off the steps and when she goes back to the house, the family fawns over her, much to Meredith’s annoyance. At the family dinner, the family loves getting to know Julie. When Meredith tries to jump in, she winds up insulting Thad and Patrick, causing Everett to turn on her and Kelly scolds her loudly. Meredith runs out of the house, followed by Ben (after she’s heard crashing outside).
Midpoint: Everett initially just wants to be alone but decides to go find Meredith. Julie jumps to go with him. They can’t find her at the inn so they go for a walk in the area to see where she could be.
Reversal: Ben and Meredith hang out at the bar. She vents about Amy and he tries to teach her to relax. On their walk, Everett listens to Julie’s passionate story about an artist on a small island. He wants desperately to go on that kind of an adventure. At the bar, Meredith and Ben run into Brad Stevenson. She’s thrilled at the opportunity to mess with Meredith and invites him to Christmas morning the next day. She is a drunk mess. Everett and Julie go back to the inn, but Meredith still isn’t there. He asks her to get coffee and she politely turns him down. He lives but there’s a knock on the door and she excitedly runs to open it (thinking it was Everett), but it’s Kelly, there to apologize to Meredith. Ben and Meredith fall asleep in the car, with Ben telling her the dream he had about her, seeing her as a loving person.
Reversal #2: Sybil apologizes to Everett but he blows her off. Sybil opens up to Kelly about how she won’t be there to help Everett and Kelly consoles her. Meredith wakes up in Ben’s bed, thinking she and him slept together. Kelly enters the room to find her, and thinks the same thing.
False Climax: Sybil gives Everett the ring. They have a heart-to-heart where Everett has to come to terms with his “perfect” image that he’s doing for her and it won’t change anything. Meredith sees Ben and smacks him across the face. Everett lights up when he sees Julie. He shows her his grandmother’s ring and forces her to try on the ring. It looks perfect, they all agree. But now it’s stuck. Julie starts panicking as Sybil and Susannah try to get it off. Julie hides in the bathroom. Meredith goes to find out what’s going on and sees the ring. Meredith tells her sister she thinks she slept with Ben and she smirks as she claims she’s ashamed. Brad Stevenson shows up to the family Christmas. Amy is shocked and confused. The rest of the family is thrilled. Amy confronts Meredith about Brad in front of the family. Everett tries to talk to Meredith. She blows by everyone as she passes out Christmas gifts. Everyone receives a picture of a younger Sybil (pregnant with Amy) and starts tearing up. Sybil tells Meredith she did good and Amy struggles to apologize.
Low Point: Everett keeps trying to talk to Meredith and she cries out she can’t marry him. He says he’s not asking her. Meredith is humiliated. Ranting, Meredith reveals she thinks she slept with Ben. Ben denies. She’s even more humiliated and runs out crying.
Plot Push / Third Act Decision: Sybil and Amy accidentally slam the door into Meredith, causing her to spill breakfast all over herself and the floor. They try to make her feel better. Everett charges Ben. They end up in a fight under Sybil’s kitchen table with Ben telling Everett nothing happened and he can’t get this upset when he doesn’t love her. The table collapses with all the food hitting the floor. Everett and Meredith formally break up and apologize as Julie makes plans to leave (the ring magically slipping off her finger now). Everett realizes that Julie left and goes after her with a ride from his dad and Thad.
Climax: Meredith climbs into bed with Ben. Everett catches Julie at the bus stop. She resists him and his crazy family, but ultimately stops so she can kiss Everett goodbye. She doesn’t stay but makes plans to see him again. He walks back to the car looking genuinely happy.
Resolution: Another Christmas, Thad and Patrick arrive at the house with their young son. Susannah has her baby, not born. Amy is with Brad. Meredith is there, much more relaxed looking, with Ben. They all join together to decorate the tree. Julie and Everett arrive in the background. Amy hangs the snowflake that Sybil held at the start of the film, her presence no in the form of the picture Meredith gave them earlier.
I considered just telling you what the major beat was for every sequence, but there’s so much story packed in, it wouldn’t have made any sense to follow. Even doing it the way I did leaves out Sybil’s cancer storyline, which is what is at stake for Everett in the whole movie. If there’s one thing that I wish the movie made a little clearer, it’s Everett’s emotional set up. At the start, we see him with Meredith and he’s the “calm” and “grounded” one. Then when we see him with his family, they mock him for wearing a tie. It’s understandable that he’s caught between two worlds, but when he gets to set the record in the first act, it’s confusing. The moment comes when he’s with Meredith in his room and she finds his old high school trophies in a drawer. His goal is to get the ring, to prove that everything is perfect so then his mom will be too (obviously, that’s not how cancer works). Would the trophies not add to the protection? It always threw me off.
And Amy’s storyline is so good and complex when you look at all the tiny beats in scenes. How she’s literally shoved out of the way. Everyone treats her like she’s cranky all the time, but if you’re paying attention you can see why. Like I said before, this film makes use of every single moment both seen and heard, and the best example of this is watching how the family interacts with Amy.
Rewatching this movie made me so excited for the holidays… and I know not everyone can be with their families this year, but I know even in these intensely difficult times there are still things to be grateful for. Wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!