2 Stars - Shallow
The stereotypical dysfunctions of the Stone family are entertaining but offer little of real value to our lives. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, the story is on the surface about a man bringing home his girlfriend for Christmas and her uptight struggle to be accepted. But it soon becomes clear that the plot is not so much a “meet the parents” theme as it is a “we’re a mixed up family but we’re all we’ve got” theme. In addition, the film hits hard on the politically correct agendas of Hollywood while strumming the viewer’s emotions with a terminal disease and unexpected romance. This tired agenda never really works as the film evolves into a presentation of humanist philosophy as the grandfather proclaims that the newly adopted son of his gay son is “truly the king of kings.”
However, the ensemble cast works well together. The father Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) is an insightful, liberal professor whose wife Sybil (Diane Keaton) declares at their Christmas dinner that she had hoped her three sons would be gay. This goal is achieved in her second son, Thad (Tyrone Giordano) who is also deaf and has brought home his black partner. This plot line is paralleled by the other two sons, one of whom is addicted to marijuana, named Ben (Luke Wilson), and the other is a driven professional named Everett (Dermot Mulroney). Rounding out the family are two daughters. The “good” daughter and mother of the first grandchild is Susannah Stone Trousdale (Elizabeth Reaser). The “mean” daughter who is a failure at relationships is Amy (Rachel McAdams).
The woman who is about to join this family is the quintessential uptight achiever named Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker). Having met Everett while they were in Hong Kong, it is clear to everyone in the family that they are not really meant for each other. This creates one of the redeeming values of the film. The question raised is how does a family help one of its members know if he or she is making a mistake in their choice of life partner?
With brutal honesty and blatant disregard for one another’s feelings, the Stone family has no difficulty saying the obvious to each other. This raises a tension that is more than Meredith can handle. To help her cope, she asks her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to join her. It is her arrival that throws an unexpected wrench into the whole family’s experience.
The familiar experiences of films about families normally touch our memories and our hearts, but the Stone family is so unfamiliar and has so many agendas woven within the plot that the film leaves us stone cold until the end when it weaves in a terminal illness and unexpected romance. However, by then we feel more manipulated rather than enriched and we are left with a shallowly entertaining experience.
- The liberal philosophy of the professor and his wife declares the supremacy of individuality with a very subjective morality. Do you believe that placing their highest value on individualism without objective moral values is a good thing in the Stone family? Why or why not?
- What do you think the film is proclaiming when, at the Christmas season, there is no mention of Jesus but the adopted son of the gay couple is proclaimed to be the “king of kings”?
- When Everett falls for Julie and Meredith falls for Ben and all believe that they are in love after only one night together is romance at its most implausible form. Do you believe this would happen in real life? Why or why not?
- Do you think the cruel treatment of Meredith by Amy is unlikely? Why do you answer the way that you do? Have you ever treated someone – or been treated – this way?
- When Meredith questions the family’s belief that gay children are preferred to heterosexual ones, she is not tolerated. Why do you think that happened? Do you think that traditional moral values are the new target of intolerance? Why or why not?