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Christmas movies are often pretty dire as anyone who has survived Ben Affleck's Surviving Christmas (2003) or any of the Tim Allen Santa Clause comedies can easily testify. (Even this year's historical WWI epic Joyeux Noel was disappointing). The Family Stone is another of this year's designated Yuletide movies that dives headlong into the trials and tribulations of not only the 'Jesus Season', but the Family Season as well. First off, The Family Stone is Sarah Jessica Parker's first post-Sex & The City movie and she fares well in her full-time return to the big screen as uptight 'Manhattanite' Meredith Morton. A nightmare 'meet the parents' situation ensues as her boyfriend Everett Stone, (Dermot Mulroney) - the product of a bohemian, academic household - drags preppy lawyer Meredith home to meet the folks. And there are plenty of them, plenty, including stoner Stone brother Ben (The Royal Tennenbaum's Luke Wilson in fine form), 'lil 'sis Amy (Mean Girls' Rachel Wilson, again in fine form), dad Kelly (Craig T. Nelson in a welcome return to the big screen after his stint in TV series The District) ,and mum Sybil, Diane Keaton, who it must be said acts at her feisty best. The Family Stone is a much more intricate, less 'cartoony' film than Meet The Parents (2002) that leans more heavily towards drama than comedy. But not to be outdone it does have many laugh-out-loud moments, especially towards the calamitous ending when Claire Danes enters the fray playing Meredith's much-less uptight sister Julie, and romantic and family allegiances are chopped and changed. It's frankly hysterical. The Family Stone is an excellent second feature by writer/director Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden). It is also a courageous film, full of spot-on performances and moreover, accurate observations about family, romantic relationships and the fragility of life. In the words of David Bowie, it ain't easy. But The Family Stone might just make the holiday movie season easier to take.