Sarah Jessica Parker is the very Manhattan, high stress and rather repressed fiancee of Dermot Mulroney. They head off to small-town New England for Christmas with his family, headed by matriarch Diane Keaton. This is the family Stone of the title, and their free-and-easy lifestyle clashes with Parker’s, and she is seen as an interloper. She is subjected to no end of humiliations, principally at the hands of Rachel McAdams. But when Mulroney’s brother Luke Wilson shows up, Parker finds herse…f a rather oddball ally.
In spite of what the above summary suggests, this is not tale of good versus evil. As much as the Stones give Parker trouble, they are fundamentally decent people, with lurking family tragedy, and Parker’s character brings some of the havoc down on her own head, most notably in a positively excruciating dinner sequence where she puts her foot so far down her throat she swallows her thigh. The cast is strong that they make material that sometimes shouldn’t work turn out quite well indeed.
This isn’t a film of elaborate sound design, but it is one of elegant design. A case point is the opening, where we hear a cell phone ringing, moving from one speaker to the next, while the screen is black. When the picture appears, there is Parker precisely where we expect to see her based on the position of the sound. Nice. And this is the type of sound we have: unobtrusive, but effective use of surround, and no distortion.
You’re going to want warm, semi-nostalgic colours for a Christmas movie, and that’s what you get here. The contrasts, blacks and flesh tones are also good. The image is sharp, but not so you could cut yourself; there is just enough softness to fit the mood of the setting. Edge enhancement and grain aren’t a problem, nor is artifacting. The recreation of the theatrical experience of the film is pretty much bang-on.
Two commentaries: the first by Parker and Mulroney, the second by writer/director Thomas Bezucha, producer Michael London, editor Jeffrey Ford and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. Try this little experiment: select either track, and start skipping chapters. Try to find a moment where you don’t think you’ve landed on nothing more than a laugh track. That’s right: too many speakers, too much horsing around. The second track is the more useful of the two. Things settle down with Bezucha and Ford are alone to talk about the six deleted scenes. The featurettes, of which there are four, are purely promotional and of limited interest. There are three theatrical trailers (plus trailers for Confetti, Little Manhattan and Just My Luck), a gag reel, and a recipe for Parker’s character’s Strata. The menu’s main screen and transitions are animated and scored.
A very solid entry into the Christmas movie franchise. The extras could do with a touch more gravitas, however.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Making-of Featurettes
- Gag Reel
- “Meredith’s Strata” Recipe