Monday, May 08, 2006

Movie Mon.- Loathing; Unadulterated Loathing

You know, I watch a lot of movies.

A lot of movies.

Some I like, some I don't, some I love, some I'm torn on.

There are very few that I actively hate.

Another one has been added to the list.

The Family Stone.

To explain why this movie created such a strong reaction (outside of the fact that I was already in a foul mood before watching it, and was hoping for a cheery comedy to lighten my mood), I have to go into detail about the plot points that drove me insane, but to boil it down to its most essential factor: every single time the film approached a crossroads and I thought "Whatever you do, don't go path A" the film would indeed go down said path.

If you disagree with my assessment, please, feel free to champion the film in the comments; just don't expect it to sway my opinion.

The basic plot of the film is this: majorly-uptight Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is invited by her boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to spend Christmas with his majorly-liberal family; unbeknownst to her, he plans on getting his grandmother's wedding ring and popping the question. However, his whole family (with the exception of his stoner brother Ben(Luke Wilson) takes an instant dislike to her, making her time there miserable; not being able to handle staying in the house any longer, she checks into a nearby inn, and calls in her sister Julie (Claire Danes) for reinforcements. Unfortunately, as soon as her sister arrives, the entire Stone family falls for her, including Everett; an ugly altercation at dinner revolving around Meredith and Everett's gay, deaf brother Thad and his black life partner (now, that's what Jeff on Coupling might call "over-egging the 'liberal sympathy' pudding), during which neither her boyfriend nor her sister rise to her defense, sends her running away, followed only by stoner Ben. Following some drinking, some smoking, some pointless misunderstandings, and a major blow-up, Meredith winds up with Ben, Everett with Julie, and the mom dies. Oh, did I not mention that the mom (Diane Keaton) was dying of cancer but didn't want her kids to know? Sorry, my bad; guess I just thought that terminally ill characters go without saying in most romantic comedies, right?

Where to begin, where to begin . . .

I hated that, within seeing Everett and Meredith together for less than a day, the entire family automatically knew that he didn't love her, and began ordering him not to marry her; there was no "what do you see in her," no "please, Everett, help us understand," just incessant "she's so uptight, they obviously won't work, he's obviously doing this because he thinks if he gets married and has a perfect life mom won't die" thinking. Frustrating. I hated even more that they were right; making their knee-jerk reactions turn out to be true almost validates their awful, judgmental behavior.

I hated the whole "sibling swapping" storyline, not only on general “saw it coming a zillion miles away” principle, but because it was so ham-fisted in its execution. Everett falls in love with Julie the instant he sees her step off the bus, for crying out loud! He then spends a single evening talking to her while they're ostensibly "searching" for his runaway soon-to-be-fiancé, and he hits on her; as if I wasn't already disliking both of them as it was for the way they acted during the dinner altercation. Which reminds me . . .

I hated the dinner altercation: I didn't buy that Meredith, who had just gotten onto her sister for being too personal for asking if the multi-racial gay couple cared what race their adopted child was, would then launch into her "you didn't really wish your kids were gay?" speech. I hated that after she did launch into it, that she didn't know when to shut up; I hated that everybody at the table was ready to jump on her not only as a homophobe, but also as a racist; I hated that Everett, instead of being a compassionate near-fiancé and trying to either help her clarify or get her to leave it alone, just snapped at her, and then had the audacity to blame the rest of the family for driving her off.

I hated that Everett, after finally getting the family wedding ring, stuck it on Julie’s finger first; what sense does that make? I hated that this led to Meredith finding out about the proposal beforehand, which led to her outburst of “No, I won’t marry you”; I hated that he felt the need to humiliate Meredith by replying "I wasn't going to ask you to marry me" right there in front of everyone, as if she was the biggest moron in the world. I mean, come on! Like the poor woman hasn't been through enough crap that weekend. Not to mention, she’d just been told by her sister that he was planning on popping the question, so it wasn’t that far-fetched a reaction on her part. Much like with my Meet the Parents experience, one of the few things I appreciated in the film was Meredith actually blowing up at the family, although her explosion wasn't quite as fun as Greg Focker's encounter with Halfrek the Vengeance Demon on the airplane, since her meltdown was more self-pitying. And I really, really hated that it was her asking him "Do you hate me?" What the #$*#&#? Let’s see, she got abused, got drunk, blacked out, and mistakenly thought she had cheated on him and instantly regretted it; he dragged her to his family’s home for Christmas, treated her like crap, actually made her feel like an idiot for doubting his affection for him, then hit on her sister and basically announced to the entire household that their relationship was a sham. Hmmm, who was more in the wrong there, I wonder . . .

And for him to offer no real apology, and then go rushing off after her sister . . .

Pardon me a second, I can’t type right now, too busy seeing red.

Okay, all better now.

I hated the way that Everett ran off after Julie, and tried to get her to stay, partially because it was so predictable, but mainly because by this point I totally loathed him; I loved it when the bus pulled away and she wasn't there, since for an instant I thought the film was going to give him his just desserts; I hated it when they showed a long shot of the bus, because then I knew it was going to stop and she was going to get off; I hated it that I was right.

Now, this film has a lot of champions; lots of apologists who try to convince all the haters exactly why it’s actually a tremendous film and anyone who doesn't like it just doesn't have the cognitive capacity to appreciate the films' subtleties. And while I can understand many of their points to some degree, none of them are salient enough to make me say "gee whiz, you're right, this film shouldn't have made me want to kill something after all."

I think the defense that sticks in my craw the most is the "well, the family could just tell that Meredith was just too uptight and wasn't being herself, and when she let down her guard like with the Christmas gifts, they accepted her" defense. First of all, whether she was trying too hard or not, that doesn't excuse the crappy way they treated her; I'm sorry, but the way to make an uptight person unwind is not to jump on everything they say and then accuse them of being racist. And as for the whole picture thing, she had done that long before her drunken, reefer fueled escapades with stoner Ben, so those gifts were a result of the early, "uptight" Meredith; the point should have been more of a "see, if we had just given her a chance, we'd have seen she was okay," but that gets drowned out by the Everett-humiliates-her sequence that follows.

Another big sticking point for many is the argument over whether the behavior of the characters is realistic or not, with many of its detractors saying nobody would act like that, and most of its champions saying that they would. For my money, it doesn't matter one way or the other; just because behavior is realistic doesn't mean that I want to watch 2 hours worth of it.

Probably the most controversial scene in the film is the dinner table sequence, with people split over who was at fault; to me, it's not so much a question of "who's at fault" as "who is the least at fault"; pretty much the only blameless party in that sequence is the little girl, and maybe her mom. Every one else either throws fuel on the fire, or at the least do nothing to put it out.

Many people who loved the film talked about how sad it was, and how much they cried. Well, I cried too: tears of rage. Rage at seeing such an incredibly talented cast wasted; rage at having to see poor Meredith be abused be others and sabotage herself; rage at having to watch the Everett character get off without any blame being thrown his way, even though he was arguably the biggest jackass in the whole film; rage at my need to watch a movie all the way through in hopes of finding redeeming qualities. Now, is it healthy to feel this sort of rage towards fictional characters? Probably not, but that's never stopped me before.


Chris said...

No, I completely agree. That movie not only sucked many and varied asses, it actively provoked at least three separate arguments between my wife and I while watching it.

It's like the movie version of the TV show Mad About You in that respect, as far as trying to intentionally break up couples.

Oh, and I too long for the days of competitive speech. Sometimes.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Hmm, comic books, blogging, competitive speech, and a righteous hatred of The Family Stone; you, sir, are welcome here at CoIM any time.