Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rolling Stones

I often say the wrong thing. I am rarely wise enough to subsequently shut up and hope that no one notices. I follow up with explanations and more details about how the wrong thing was not so wrong, it was simply said with the wrong words, which tends to further alienate the group of people I'm speaking to. This happens in groups where I don't know the people that well, but I've become just comfortable enough to speak up and express an opinion. That's why a scene in The Family Stone, which Jeff and I saw last weekend, broke my heart. Meredith (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) is at the dinner table with her boyfriend's family, who don't like her that much. As she digs herself deeper and deeper, and offends each one of them more and more, I shrunk into my seat in recognition.

I am lucky to have married into a family where everyone acted like they liked me even before they really got to know me (and they are still nice to me even now that they know I don't eat watermelon or enjoy long car trips). But I remember the fragility of those first family dinners, when the rhythm was passing me by and I piped up with some strange addition to the conversation. And I wasn't sure whether to hug or shake hands, and I wasn't yet in synch with the dress code. All of those feelings surfaced while I watched this film.

I'll admit that my compassion was helped along (manipulated?) by the casting of the charming SJP; I could like her even when she was acting unlikable because she's Carrie Bradshaw and a Square Peg and she wears gorgeous Narciso Rodriguez clothes during the whole movie. It also helped that the uncomfortable bits were bracketed by hilarious family dynamics within a large cast where, remarkably, each person had his or her own personality. In my book, that's good filmmaking. The whole shebang is helped along by an entire cast of ringers, including Craig T. Nelson (Coach!), Claire Danes (Angela Chase!), and Diane Keaton (Annie Hall!). And Rachel McAdams, who is supposed to be the Next Big Thing, shows up and keeps up the Mean Girls spirit instead of teetering over into The Notebook territory.

I love movies where characters are flawed, where there are slapstick moments and strange moments and genuinely sad moments that feel real. I was a big fan of the Jodie Foster-directed Home for the Holidays which came to mind while I was watching The Family Stone. Lots of people disliked that one, but I almost fell on the grody movie theatre floor I laughed so hard. I've heard criticism that this movie was mis-marketed, that it was supposed to be a comedy and then someone gets cancer. To me, the best stories include characters who have real relationships, and the funniest jokes relate to real life. And in real life, sad stuff happens right along with the funny stuff. Sometimes, that's what makes the funny stuff so funny. When it comes out on video (I imagine it isn't in US theatres any more, is it?), watch it, and when you hate Meredith, think of me.

The working title of this movie was "Hating Her." I love that.

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