I wasn't certain just how much I'd enjoy THE FAMILY STONE, given that it centers around a family of rather self-aborbed liberals who are their own biggest fan club. Somewhat to my surprise, I confess that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Although the film had some modern "politically correct" sensibilities (complete with homosexual son and partner among those gathered around the family table), it simultaneously had a decidedly old-fashioned appeal, starting off with Dean Martin singing Christmas music and opening credits set against vintage Christmas cards. When the credits faded to the lovely multi-story family home, my daughter whispered "This reminds me of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS." Little did we know that that classic film plays a key role late in the movie; its use was very effective, layering a viewer's nostalgic emotions for the older movie with reactions to some moving moments in the modern film.
The Stone family members are not always likeable, particularly at the outset, but they're definitely interesting. Mick LaSalle of The San Francisco Chronicle describes Diane Keaton's no-holds-barred mother as someone "who mistakes her progressive politics for personal virtue and her...aggression for forthright honesty," yet also describes her as "riveting." He's got her pegged exactly right. (The direct link to his review isn't working but can be accessed by clicking on "External Reviews" on the lefthand column at the IMDb link above.)
The characters do show greater warmth as the film progresses, especially as an increasingly chaotic Christmas morning unfolds with life-changing ramifications for all. The film is carefully balanced between humor and sentiment, ending in a lovely though bittersweet epilogue.
As a side note, the sets are wonderful. The Stone family kitchen is filled with eye candy for anyone who loves vintage cookware or cookbooks. Tiny details which might not be noticed by all viewers, such as the granddaughter reading a LITTLE HOUSE book on Christmas Eve, added to the sense of a real family in a lived-in home.
I particularly enjoyed reviews by Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin (click on "Leonard's Picks" and scroll down), and James Bernardelli (accessible via "External Reviews" at the subject line link).