So far I’ve dealt only with Christmas movies that I’ve loved. This installment is one that kind of takes me aback a little bit when I watch it: The Family Stone.

If you don’t remember The Family Stone, or if it doesnt grace your beloved Christmas-movies list, I don’t blame ya. It came out in 2005, and with its cast of highly-marketable and diverse actors, was marketed as a wacky family comedy about bringing the girlfriend home to the parents.

Maybe you remember it? Check out the trailer below:

See? It’s kooky holiday fun! And with its cast of Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson and Luke Wilson, and a plot description on IMDB that reads like a wacky Meet-the-Parents-meets-Christmas rip off*, I remember settling into a movie filled with wacky, messy hijinks and christmas-time nostalgia.

What you get when you watch The Family Stone is something massively different. It is in fact a much more heart felt dramedy, dealing with the ramifications of growing up, becoming your own person, and losing your parents, of all things, and very deftly uses the Christmas holiday as an excuse to bring together a family of loving individuals who don’t really know how to fully deal with each other as adults. They’re kooky, I guess, but mostly they’re just normal people dealing with the same stuff all of us do when we go home. They meet up with relatives who they see maybe once or twice a year, and are dealing with the fascinating contrast between loving these people unconditionally and not quite knowing how to interact with them.

Add to that the (SPOILER ALERT) rather shocking plot involving Diane Keaton’s inoperable breast cancer and each of her children finding out (on Christmas!) that their mother probably won’t be around next Christmas, and you certainly don’t have a Robert Deniro/Ben Stiller farce on your hands. And so the first time I watched The Family Stone, I had absolutely no idea how to take it.

But in rewatching it this Christmas as part of me ongoing attempt to chronicle every step of the Christmas experience, I was amazed with how fascinating a film it is. At times unwatchable for how unlikeable it allows Sarah Jessica Parker’s character to be, and at others profound for how much it recognizes the absurdities of every day life, The Family Stone is almost the perfect antidote to normal Christmas fare. It knows that Christmas doesn’t magically fix everything (there’s no comforting ending montage, as their is in Love, Actually, meant to make us believe that everyone’s lives were happier after than before), while still trying desperately to believe in the magic of Christmas and of the familial connections that make Christmas worthwhile.

Of course, there’s also an absurd sibling-switching storyline, and a good amount of food getting accidentally onto people’s clothes, so it’s far from a perfect movie. But viewed in the right context (and with the right amount of hot chocolate mixed with peppermint schnapps), it’s a fascinating offset for the sugary likes of Elf.

* The actual, and completely inaccurate, description:

“An uptight, conservative business woman accompanies her boyfriend to his
eccentric and outgoing family’s annual holiday celebration and finds that she’s
a fish out of water in their free spirited way of life.”