I wish I was a Christmas person because it seems like it must be delightful. I even bought the Bonne Maman advent calendar this year to try and get into the spirit, and so far the only joyful thing it’s filled me with is a different flavor of jam every day. But some things are just not meant to be, so I don’t get a huge amount of enjoyment out of many Christmas movies. I do like The Holiday, although I suspect that a huge part of that is due to the fact that I love the idea of becoming friends with an old man on vacation, and I often go quite a few Christmases without watching even the classics. There is an exception to almost every rule however, and the only movie that I make sure to watch every year is The Family Stone.
If you’re unfamiliar with this ode to holiday familial messiness, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for Christmas to meet his family. Meredith is understandably nervous, but that discomfort manifests itself as uptight awkwardness, and the Stones are a tight and sometimes uncharitable bunch. Father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), brother Ben (Luke Wilson), and sister Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) try their best to be welcoming, while mother Sybil (Diane Keaton) and other sister Amy (Rachel McAdams) don’t try quite so hard. Things become so fraught that Meredith asks her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come act as a support, and that’s when everything gets really get crazy.
There are scenes and particular lines from The Family Stone that still make me laugh, or cry, every time I watch it. This is the only film for me that really captures how big holidays in close quarters with the people who know how to push your buttons like no one else can be equal parts fun and extraordinarily tough.
But if I’m being honest, the real reason this is my favorite Christmas movie is the Stones’ house. It’s one of my all time top film homes. Not only is it an ideal place to spend the holiday, I’d move into that place tomorrow. The first shot of that white exterior surrounded by the snow never fails to make me swoon. There should be bus tours in Connecticut that drive by The Family Stone house every winter. It’s like a bowl of soup, all sleek on the outside with warm comfort inside. Open that front door to the welcoming safety of rooms that are cozy and clearly well loved, but also quite frankly kind of a disaster. To be clear, I don’t mean that in a bad way, because I love a house that’s full of random crap.
The Stone residence is a place that has very clearly housed a family of seven, and there is evidence of five children and harried parents all over. The set design team truly outdid themselves with how lived in this space feels. It’s everything a home should be — a perfect reflection of the people who live there — something that is only intensified by everyone convening for Christmas.
Apologies to most of the shows on HGTV but I love ornate, old fashioned looking patterns, and not only can they be found splashed on the wallpaper everywhere from the entryway to the little powder room that Meredith drags Julie into even though it’s a minuscule space with bad lighting, they cover almost every inch of Sybil and Kelly’s room. Where to look first? The wallpaper, the curtains, the bedspread, the chair, the pillow shams, it’s truly a feast for the eyes. I like to think that Sybil would always just buy whatever she ever liked at Home Goods without any thought as to whether or not it was going to match anything else she already owned. This room is every bit the tender chaos you would expect from someone so loving and somewhat kooky at the same time.
With its 70s tile flooring, swinging door (the architectural culprit for Meredith spilling mushroom strata down her front), and old table underneath which two adult brothers have a hilariously juvenile slap fight, the heart of every home is the rightful setting of one of the best scenes in the movie. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had some kind of dramatic holiday incident in a similarly cluttered and semi-outdated kitchen.
As much as I like to try and spot a new knick-knack or detail during each viewing, I think my favorite shot we see of The Family Stone house will always be this one. The mishmash of stockings are all squashed together on the mantle because there’s not quite enough space for that many. And let’s all take a moment to appreciate that chair. It is absolutely hideous, I’m obsessed with it, and I will not rest until I own one just like it. This is the kind of furniture that probably belonged to someone’s grandparent and kept getting passed down because everyone loves the memories attached to it more than the actual item itself. For the rest of their lives all of the Stone children will look at that chair and be able to picture their mother sitting in it just like this, and will feel a little bit closer to her when they sit in it themselves.
I don’t have the decades long marriage or the five kids, but I have the collection of random crap already, so the way I see it I’m already part way to a home just like this. If I ever get one it may finally turn me into a Christmas person, so here’s hoping.