Directed by Thomas Bezucha, stars Claire Danes, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Brian J White, Elizabeth Reaser and Paul Schneider.

This year's weepy Christmas no-brainer is 'The Family Stone', a comedy (tinged with sadness) about a family of crazy people, each trying to outdo each other in the madness stakes. On many levels it works - the script is quite funny in parts, the acting top-notch and the nasty element, introduced by a few characters, is really nailed - but mostly it works, well, because your expectation levels are dropped slightly before the festive season. You go into this expecting a soppy, wacky film to steer you towards the overload of such movies on offer on the box over the Christmas holidays.

Everett Stone (Mulroney) believes he has found the woman of his dreams. He wants to marry the painfully uptight Meredith (Parker) but he's not so keen on introducing her to his eccentric family. And, after meeting them, no-one would blame him.

His mum Sybil (Keaton) is ill but is keeping the sunny side out, insisting on being obstinate and sarcastic when pushed to her limits. His dad Kelly (Nelson) seems to want to stay young forever, which includes smoking pot with his sons. Then there's his sister Amy (McAdams), the youngest member of the family, who believes that it is her absolute right to scowl and protect her territory against female invasion.

His gay, deaf brother Thad (Giordano) is the likeable one who welcomes Meredith, despite the family plan to totally ostracise her - but ends up getting no thanks for it. Married, heavily pregnant sister Susannah (Reaser) has problems of her own and would rather stay on her mother's side if the family consensus is "we don't like Meredith".

And last, but not least, there's the lazy, slob of the family, Ben (Wilson), who has an eye for things that aren't his and comes out with some of the funniest one-liners of the movie. At one stage he coolly informs humour-less Meredith that she has a freak flag, but just doesn't fly it, believing this to be a massive compliment.

Everyone is home and it's shaping up to be a great Christmas, until Meredith arrives, stomping around in her stilettos and appearing very much out of place in the happy-go-lucky sort of household that is Christmas at the Stones. From here on in it's a case of everyone against Meredith, and none more so than Amy, who refuses to be won over by her proposed sister-in-law, no matter what lengths she goes to (and she does try a little too hard at times, which adds nicely to the cringe factor). Eventually, so lonely is Meredith that she invites her sister Julie (Danes) to come join her at the Stones', not banking on everyone falling instantly in love with her.

Luke Wilson is impressive as the raggedy brother who has a heart of gold but struggles to drag any real feelings out of it, except under the influence of drink or drugs. Diane Keaton plays the eccentric but absolutely well-meaning mother perfectly, dragging everyone's stories together and hitting the mark with her sharp wit.

Writer and director Thomas Bezucha seems to get the right mix of comedy and calamity here. The fun elements linger but don't totally overshadow the tender moments, which still manage to tug a little at the heart strings, and the all-star cast gel well as the family with more than a few issues to sort through.

If you're the kind of person who opts to say "with cheese, please!", then you'll lap this up. With lashings of festive fun, 'The Family Stone' is dripping with cheddar-flavoured clichés. If there has to be at least one film like this every year, it could have been a lot worse.

Linda McGee