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THE FAMILY STONE – Michael Giacchino

December 16, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

familystoneOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s a wonderful thing to see the career of Michael Giacchino developing in the way it has. In many ways he is the trailblazer of his generation – a massively successful composer in the video game arena who has made the successful transition over into movies, and is now well on his way to becoming a top name there too, off the back of scores such as The Incredibles and Sky High. The fact that he is now regularly scoring major studio movies is one of the most pleasing developments in years, and one can only hope the trend continues. His latest assignment is the romantic comedy The Family Stone, which is likely to surprise many of his most ardent fans, because for the most part it sounds like nothing he’s ever written before.

Thomas Bezucha’s film is a charming and whimsical family caper, following firmly in the footsteps of the likes of Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, in which a new inductee into a large, tight-knit clan goes to meet the in-laws for the first time, and has to endure all their foibles and idiosyncrasies. In The Family Stone, the newcomer is the tightly-wound Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), who accompanies her boyfriend Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to his family’s annual Christmas celebration and finds that she’s a fish out of water in their way of life. The family in question includes mom and dad Sybil and Kelly (Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson), laid-back brother Ben (Luke Wilson), and sister Amy (Rachel McAdams), who turns out to be a bitch from hell, and sends a devastated Meredith into the arms of her sister Julie (Clare Danes) to recover her composure. However, once back at the Stone homestead, things go from bad to worse, when Meredith finds herself falling for her boyfriend’s brother, and Everett finds himself falling for Meredith’s sister…

Those familiar with Giacchino’s work on the Medal of Honor games, Secret Weapons Over Normandy, the TV series Alias, or even The Incredibles, may find themselves wondering if they picked up the right score while listening to The Family Stone. This is Michael Giacchino channelling Randy Newman, or Marc Shaiman, or the 1001 other romantic comedy caper scores which have been written over the past decade or so, and as such is generally light-hearted and full of frothy strings and dancing woodwinds to underscore the gently subversive familial adventures that befall Meredith and the dreaded in-laws. However, the quite remarkable thing about The Family Stone is that there is absolutely nothing remarkable about it – in many ways, it’s a perfectly generic romantic comedy score, with nothing distinctive or unmistakably Giacchino about it. Even those familiar with some of his more obscure earlier works, like the little-seen 1999 comedy My Brother the Pig, will find none of his stylistic fingerprints. This is new ground for Giacchino, and to be honest, it’s not his strong point.

That’s not to say that The Family Stone is entirely without merit – on the contrary, it’s perfectly listenable and an enjoyable enough way to spend 45 minutes. The opening “Family Stone Waltz” is a delightfully flamboyant Strauss homage, albeit with some slightly screwy timings and peculiar flourishes, but it nicely sets things up on a cheerful note. Subsequent cues, such as “Millie’s Famous Brownies” and “Hi” recapitulate the main theme in subtle ways, on a variety of flighty instruments, adding a great deal of charm and whimsical breeziness. In fact, the “Alternate Main Theme” is possibly better than the one they actually used in the final edit, it being a slightly less chaotic and more cohesive oompah march with Christmassy orchestrations. Other cues such as “Sybil & Kelly” and the comedic “Try It On” bask in warm seasonal glow, while “It’s Snowing” is the score’s climax, a gently emotional string and piano cue which pushes all the right buttons without being overly-manipulative. Occasionally, one of Giacchino’s secondary themes (“Dawn”, “A Very Good Tree”) seems to want to burst into a hearty rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” – which, of course, it then does in the 22nd track with a delightful instrumental arrangement of the Ralph Blane seasonal classic.

Perhaps one slight problem of the score is its choppiness: almost half of the cues are under a minute in length, never allowing for much more than a few seconds of frantic mickey-mousing or gentle emotional steerage before it moves onto the next target spot. Scores which do this often never have a sense of development or an overall framework, and The Family Stone is very much like that. It’s perfectly pleasant, but never really seems to go anywhere. Ultimately, this score is one which should really be chalked up to experience: the more films Michael Giacchino scores, the more his name will be noticed by the people who hire composers, and the more opportunities he will have to write better music for better movies – and this can only be a good thing.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Stone Family Waltz (1:41)
  • Millie’s Famous Brownies (1:39)
  • They’re Here! (0:53)
  • Separate Bedrooms (0:38)
  • Hi (1:09)
  • Dawn (0:39)
  • She’s Going to the Inn (0:47)
  • Who Else Knows? (1:01)
  • Is That Her? (0:55)
  • What Seems To Be Problem Here, Ma’am? (0:49)
  • Coffee or Something (1:43)
  • A Big Red Shovel (1:39)
  • Sybil & Kelly (0:40)
  • Just Stockings (0:37)
  • Try it On (3:04)
  • You and Me, Kid (0:57)
  • Trepak [Cossack Dance] from The Nutcracker (written by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arr. Jennifer Hammond) (1:09)
  • Global Warming (1:30)
  • It’s Snowing (5:09)
  • A Very Good Tree (3:56)
  • Main Theme (Alternate) (1:44)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Instrumental) (written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin) (2:44)
  • The Family Stone (Suite) (9:06)

Running Time: 43 minutes 57 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6712 (2005)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec, Jack Hayes, Chris Tilton, Adam Cohen, Jennifer Hammond and Michael Giacchino. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Stephen M. Davis and Alex Levy. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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