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