‘The Family Stone’: Sarah Jessica Parker Reveals Why Diane Keaton Was ‘Tough on Her’

People don’t talk a lot about the movie The Family Stone, even though some might argue that it would make a refreshing change=up from regular viewings of Elf and A Christmas Story. The 2005 movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker also quotes another Christmas classic more people should see. 

Understandably, most people identify Parker with Sex and the City, but when you get to work with Diane Keaton, that tends to stand out in anyone’s filmography. In fact, The Family Stone came into being around the same time Sex and the City was coming to an end. 

Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker | Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

What was ‘The Family Stone’ about?

The 2005 movie also starred Craig T. Nelson, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes and Rachel McAdams. Parker plays Meredith Morton, an uptight Manhattan executive who is not looking forward to spending Christmas with her boyfriend Mulrony’s family. She feels like an outsider to that more loosely wound group.

As Meredith feared, the family gathering does not go well, and it eventually becomes apparent that the matriarch of the family, played by Keaton, is in failing health, making matters even more awkward. That description may not sound like fun, but warmth pervades the movie more than gloom does. 

The movie didn’t garner a ton of critical acclaim when it came out, scoring a soft 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert wrote, “The Family Stone” sorts out its characters admirably, depends on typecasting to help establish its characters more quickly, and finds a winding path between happy and sad secrets to that moment when we realize that the family Stone will always think of this fateful Christmas with a smile, and a tear. What else do you want? 

Why Parker loves ‘Family Stone’

Parker spoke to Vulture reminiscing about the movie, which she made around the time of two milestones: the end of Sex and the City on TV and her first years as a real-life mother, which gave the events of the movie more resonance. She said, “I remember that I had some time between wrapping Sex and the City the series and starting a movie. I knew my son was going to come with me, which was really important. That’s kind of the beauty of movies: They’re a finite period. While they are intense and all-consuming, it’s kind of like a window. As a parent who wanted to spend time with my child, it was ideal.

Parker had worked with Keaton before on The First Wives Club, but the two didn’t share much time together, on camera or off. On Family Stone, however, the two got to know each other more, with Parker finding out that her persona as a flighty scatterbrain masks a keen intelligence. Parker said of Keaton, “She was tough on me in a way, but it was very specific to the on-camera story, and not personal and not mean.”

Jezebel also took notice of Parker’s performance in the movie, writing, “Sarah Jessica Parker’s performance as Meredith, an uptight and unpleasant businesswoman with extremely tight hair who improbably bagged Dermot Mulroney, is not necessarily her best work—in fact, her performance in The Family Stone is not the best performance in The Family Stone—but in terms of overall contribution to American culture, well. It was vital.”

‘Meet Me in St Louis’ looms large in ‘Family Stone’ 

A major influence on The Family Stone was the classic 1944 MGM Musical Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and Mary Astor as a family that learns they will have to move from St. Louis to New York City to follow the family patriarch’s job. In doing so, however, they stand to miss the historic World’s Fair in 1904. It shows on TV this time of  year because this is the movie that introduced “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to the world.  

Meet Me in St. Louis not only influenced The Family Stone but is directly quoted in the 2005 movie, when “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays over a pivotal scene. Ironically, Parker watched Meet me in St. Louis in the first Sex and the City movie. Both The Family Stone and Meet Me in St. Louis also share this crucial theme: that no matter what strife may arise over the holidays, those very holidays provide much-needed warmth and comfort.