Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire
Danes, Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Rachel McAdams
Everett Stone (Mulroney) and Meredith (Parker) are in love. They both have high-powered jobs but she cannot let hers lie for a second - even on Christmas Eve. If work troubles weren't setting her on edge enough then the prospect of meeting Everett's extensive family is certainly making her more uptight.
There's mum, Sybil (Keaton), dad, Kelly (Nelson), brothers Ben (Wilson) and Thad (who's deaf and gay) and sisters Amy (McAdams) and Susannah and her daughter Elizabeth. There's also Thad's black boyfriend Patrick.
Things do not bode well because Amy has taken an immediate dislike to Meredith on an earlier meeting and sets up a series of private jokes amongst her family before she even arrives. Then overwhelming emotion from all quarters does nothing but alienate her even further.
Meredith desperately tries to be approved but just ends up saying and doing all the wrong things so, finally feeling as excluded as a man called Pariah, she moves to a local motel and calls her sister, Julie (Danes), to back her up.
That's when Sybil refuses to give Everett the family wedding ring that she promised him, Everett starts to question his feelings, Meredith gets drunk and sleeps with Ben and the boy Amy lost her virginity to turns up on Christmas day.
There's an element of false marketing at play here if you were to judge this film purely by the DVD sleeve; it looks like a Sarah Jessica Parker film and the strapline states, 'Before she gets the ring, she must survive the family.' So, first things first, NOTE: This is NOT a S J P vehicle and the story is NOT about her trying to get her hands on this big wedding ring. In fact, her character never even lets on that she knows anything about it.
It's an interesting comedy that I wouldn't even classify as rom-com (although there's a fair amount of it flying around) but more of a sit-com.
Straight off the bat is an absolutely stellar ensemble cast, each of whom is absolutely faultless. Parker has ditched the sassy, confident Sex and the City Carrie to play Meredith as uptight, uncomfortable and insecure. She's an incredibly unlikeable character from the start but you can't help sympathising with when the eccentric family members band together. Each, of whom, has a slightly different slant to make them strong enough not to fall by the wayside and give them their funny moments throughout.
But besides the personality clash comedy there is an endearing element of nice family values. Perhaps slightly unrealistic but Sybil and Kelly are progressive, liberal parents who have raised an incredibly diverse family who all get along with each other brilliantly but seem to be very intolerant of outsiders.
Keaton plays the perfect matriarch: loving, protective and always controlling. She is the heart of the family and where the real story lies in the bonds that she still holds with the members of her unit and the ultimate sorrow that is bound to follow because of them.
Certainly marketed as a chick-flick to fans of Parker but by no means inaccessible to their partners. It's mushy in places, truly hysterical in others and ultimately a warm, feel-good film that doesn't necessitate a Christmas timeslot.
A veritable bundle of extras:
Two commentaries: one with Parker and Mulroney tittering and giggling like a couple of school kids is pretty unenlightening as to the whole acting process and behind the scenes info. Mildly amusing but I couldn't sit through the whole film again listening to them whittering on. The other is with the production team going into far more detail about the casting and filming but again didn't tempt me into listening throughout but rather skip to a few key scenes.
More interesting were the featurettes interviewing the cast and crew about the development of the film and how hard it is to get a film off the ground without 'A' listers attached. There's an awful lot of mutual backslapping going on but it's forgiveable.
Half a dozen deleted scenes and a Christmas recipe are mildly diverting but it's the gag reel that encompasses the family feeling of the film. Everyone genuinely enjoying themselves and getting along, stripped of the usual Hollywood lip service and sycophancy.