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Why ‘The Family Stone’ is the Best Holiday Movie

Everett’s ‘Love Actually’-rivaling turtleneck, for one

12.16.16
Esprit de famille

Diane Keaton and a snowy New England setting can almost always guarantee my civilian vote when it comes to Oscar-nominating a “best movie,” but it took a while for The Family Stone to rise to the top of the holiday category. I hated The Family Stone when I first saw it in 2006. I thought it was depressing.

About two years later, The Family Stone slipped back in to my consciousness. I think I was at a friend’s house before going home for Christmas and it was like getting sucker punched in the emotions. I’m not an easy crier (except for when I had to cry in order to test out waterproof mascaras) but at the first hint that Diane Keaton’s character was sick, I spent the remainder of the film wrestling with “a sudden bout of allergies.” I sobbed all the way through the credits, and the film earned itself a permanent spot on my Festive Wintry Traditions List.

Slowly but surely it worked its way up the tree, like an ornament earning its keep. The Santa Clause — a movie I once loved deeply, would re-watch for nostalgia’s sake and still respect for its punny title/premise — was knocked off unceremoniously. I can’t do It’s a Wonderful Life every year if we’re being honest, and since we are, I might as well admit that I’ve gotten a little tired of Love Actually

Just like that, The Family Stone reached my list’s apex. The star on top.

I know how controversial this is! So allow me to quickly defend.

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+ Diane Keaton and her collection of superfluous turtlenecks under absolutely everything, one of which begs the question, “Why am I not chic enough to wear a turtleneck before I’ve even had coffee in the morning?”

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+ Diane Keaton and her equally great collection of button downs. Are stolen husband’s button downs the true unsung hero of heterosexual marriage?

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+ Everyone gets their own quiet story line, even if theirs isn’t the main focus. Susannah puts on a good-natured smile about her husband not being there — even though she’s pregnant and her daughter is a tiny destructive kleptomaniac who steals heels then breaks them and “forgets” to return reconsidered engagement rings.

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+ All excellent Christmas films have some sort of bully or bad guy (Harry and Marv in Home Alone, the meanie reindeer in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Who better to play the anti-hero with a secret heart of gold than Rachel McAdams? Amy Stone is who I imagine Regina George grew up to be following a senior year playing field hockey (where she met a group of girls who encouraged her to apply to a tiny liberal arts school in the Berkshires where she became a Women’s Studies major and at one point interned at NPR, hence the tote, then moved to Vermont, hence the amazing car).

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+ The Stone’s family home is one of the great cinematic holiday houses of all time, with the best wallpaper. The room with the best decor goes to Everett, the eldest son.

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+ I love a local hometown bar with a jukebox scene, both in films and IRL, and this movie has a great one: O’Malley’s.

+ I’m sick of the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope, but in The Family Stone, we get a Manic Pixie Dream Boy! His name is Ben, and Ben is smelly-dreamy.

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+ Two other very good looking men to consider while watching: Brian J. White, who plays Patrick with the great sweaters, and Amy’s future manfriend, Brad. Just Brad as opposed to the actor because it’s really his character who does it for me. With the snow globe?? Ugh.

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+ There is a casual, sort of brushed-over swingers theme that is the tentpole of the whole movie. It’s very progressive!

+ Everett and his black, unrelenting turtleneck trumps all collective turtlenecks worn in Love Actually, mostly because he’s American and it’s more brave for an American straight male to wear a turtleneck than it is a stylish European.

Esprit de famille

The Family Stone references another (albeit terrifying) quasi-holiday film, Meet Me in Saint Louis, AND it ends with a quote from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

+ All good holiday movies should make you cry. When they’re over, you should be wet-cheeked yet feel uplifted. Double check marks here, please.

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+ There’s a bit of slapstick humor involving a chase, a table crashing, spilled strata and general kitchen hijinks– also necessary in any strong holiday film.

+ Everyone falls in love at the end who needed to.

+ There are cute babies up the wazoo.

+ And most importantly of all, a sad but happy ending. It’s perfect.

More movie stuff: Home Alone has the best style. More holiday stuff: What it’s like to be half Catholic, half Jewish during the holidays.

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  • Lauren

    I’m convinced.

    I’d say the only miss is that I don’t think Claire Danes cries in this…and that what she does best (romeo + juliet, little women, igby does down). Nevertheless, I’m convinced. I hated it when I first saw it because my dad had cancer at the time (he’s ok now!), and no one in my family knew that was part of the plot, so it was a bit much. However, I agree that it’s snuck it’s way in over the years 🙂

    • jmcmathis

      she does a half-cry in the scene where she tries on the wedding ring and can’t get it off. i’d say it counts!

  • Bee

    This is by far my favorite holiday movie!

  • Verena von Pfetten

    Just texted this link to my best friend; he responded, “YES!!!!!!!”; agree 100% with all of this, but especially the turtleneck part; excellent armchair analysis of Amy Stone; anyone who thinks this is a controversial opinion is wrong; I <3 you, Amelia, etc.!!!

  • Allie

    Totally agree! It’s the best and I sob every year no matter what. The scene where Susannah is watching “Meet Me in St. Louis”and Kelly stops in to say goodnight right before “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” starts to play gets me every time!

  • Meredith

    Agreed 100% amelia, – can you start doing a diane keaton movie fanclub post? i nominate something’s gotta give next, followed by father of the bride…

    • diane

      Don’t know if you are willing to put 4 hours into it, but she was at her dramatic best in “Reds.” She plays a journalist who travels to Russia during the revolution and then loses and finally finds her true love (Warren Beatty in his prime) in the frozen tundra. (There’s a scene in a crowded Moscow train station where she finally finds him, and she tilts her head and smiles tenuously, and you want to weep with relief for both of them.) And then of course there is her turn in “Annie Hall,” in which she established herself as a true comedic genius (with great style!).

  • Oh man, I HATED this movie. I spent the entire time wishing this awful, snobby, judgy family would eventually pull their heads out of their asses. You made me want to rewatch it though and see if I still feel the same way LOL Those are some pretty intense feelings for a movie I last watched forever ago!

  • Jessica Peterson

    Also my favorite holiday movie. In the dvd extras, there is a recipe for the Morton Family Strata that I’ve made every year since 2010. I leave the mushrooms in. 😉

  • Liz Warners

    My favorite too! I always dreamed of having a huge loud family like the Stones. With their perfect New England house and cozy/progressive lifestyles.

    I also love that there was just about no talk of the sister Julie. She is my least favorite story line of the movie, although almost the main one. I don’t dislike it! But the others are just so much more charming.

  • Melissa

    I COMPLETELY agree. I hated this movie the first time I saw it in the theater, but now I watch it every year (multiple times..let’s be honest) and it’s one of my favorites. I watched it Tuesday night and sobbed through the last 5 minutes as per usual.

  • Cristina

    Too funny, I really hated this the first time I saw it and now I love it. However, I’d have to say it’s a runner up to The Holiday because that’s my fav “balling yet I feel uplifted” movie. And Jude Law.

  • Haley Nahman

    Okay I watched this movie on Thanksgiving FOR YOU and was left wondering why it topped your list so thank god you wrote this journalism. You’re an inspiration. This is the winner for me: “There is a casual, sort of brushed-over swingers theme that is the tentpole of the whole movie. It’s very progressive!”

  • Bailey

    “And I was the snow…I was the snow”
    Yes, yes yes!

  • Oooh I really want to see this, but maybes after Christmas. I’m currently in the mood for cheese and all things sparkly and festive

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Shannon

    My FAVORITE holiday movie is the overlooked “Home For The Holidays” directed by Jodie Foster-the best. Ann Bancroft is perfection. Very, very “90”s!

  • I watch this movie every with my friends since second year university!! Love it!
    http://bevseyeview.com/

  • Melissa

    I do love this movie and watch it every year but Love The Coopers quickly overtook The Family Stone as one of my favourite Christmas movies/the key to my heart when it came out last year. And you still get Diane Keaton as the mum.

  • Maddy

    Oh it’s Dermot Mulroney not Rupert Everett! They have a similar look, though Rupert is super camp!
    I’ll have to re-watch this, I’m also sick of the same old Christmas movies, thanks for the reminder of some alternatives to Love Actually and Bridget Jones!

    • Everett is Dermot’s first name in the film! 😉

    • LOL I always get those two names confused!

    • Holly Laine Mascaro

      I am always looking for alternatives to these two haha – have seen them so many times (still amazing, but…need more!!!)

  • lily

    this movie is amazing and it makes my heart feel like a thousand glowing embers

  • diane

    This movie was an acquired taste for me, too. Best role of SJP’s career, IMO. She manages to be charmingly awkward and hilariously politically incorrect. And her dismay re: putting mushrooms in the frittata kills me over every time. (I know what it is like to be the less sociable sister, so perhaps that’s why this resonates with me.) The only role that didn’t ring true was SJP’s sister played by Claire Danes. Love her as an actress but it felt fake that she could waltz off with her future bro in law with such ease.

  • so_optimistisch

    I’ve only seen this once and hated it but you’re making want to rewatch it!

  • Lauren Carlson

    I have been saying this for years! Anything with DK is gold, and she layers like nobody’s business. Also, Coach/Parenthood dad melts my heart. He plays the best dad! I also ugly sob at the ending EVERY TIME. I won’t admit how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s more than….5. And every time, I weep. Ugh, okay gonna go watch now.

  • Lady_A

    I would also need to include here “The Holiday” I have wanted to spend my Christmas on a snowy sleepy town in England ever since I saw that movie.

  • Ashley Flores

    Although my all time favorite holiday movie is Prancer, I agree with many parts of this review. The turtleneck game and DK are classic here.

  • I.N b

    i love this film so much!!! it’s amazing it makes me laugh and cry so hard, i’ve seen it over 4 times, it only gets better!

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    I have actually never seen this, so I skimmed to not get any spoilers – but will have to try it now!!

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