The good news? Sylvester Stallone never makes an appearance. The bad news? After some early indications it might do so, The Family Stone doesn't break the mold for holiday family dysfunction movies. However, it does end up being a pretty satisfying version of one. Writer/director Thomas Bezucha has clearly studied what other films in this genre have done well -- and, more importantly, what they haven't done well. Bezucha really has his holiday fruitcake and eats it too, concocting zany scenarios that never test the patience of viewers justifiably wary of this sort of thing -- viewers who were disappointed with Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays, for example. It's the details of Bezucha's writing that surprise, such as the casual fact that one of the Stone sons is both deaf and gay -- a plot element that steadfastly avoids becoming a hot-button contrivance. Another curveball: Bezucha places this family in a wintry storybook world out of any small town, then makes them unrepentant liberals, who sanction intergenerational pot smoking and talk with whimsical earnestness about wishing they had more gay children. Of course, it would be foolish to discount how the talented cast helps sell the material. Any time the movie threatens to careen off course, it's propped up by Diane Keaton's passionate matriarch, Rachel McAdams' eye-rolling baby sister, or Luke Wilson's goofy layabout, always cementing their familial bonds through believable chemistry. Less probable support comes from Craig T. Nelson as the affably passive dad, and even Sarah Jessica Parker salvages the film's most exaggerated character, the frosty conservative who infiltrates their latter-day commune. Bezucha stumbles by milking the final scene for way too long, but The Family Stone still gets the balance right for a superior multiplex holiday offering -- unpredictable enough to be funny, familiar enough to be comfortable, touching enough to be sentimental.