Love the Coopers
Starring Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Anthony Mackie, Ed Helms, Jake Lacy, June Squibb, Alan Arkin
Christmas movies are as formulaic as horror films or romantic comedies, in many ways they are worse. Each year we expect a couple of these films to clog the otherwise dramatic award season. Love the Coopers is the family oriented one, an ensemble film with converging storylines all leading up to the big holiday feast. Director Jessie Nelson (the guy responsible for Fred Claus) ensures each splinter plot has a narrative to appeal to each and every demographic. Boxes are checked as characters seem to be written backwards so everything can be tied together in a wonderfully happy moment. While the characters who begin as cynics slowly allow their ice to melt, the hefty amounts of stereotypes and predictable conclusions make this difficult to tolerate despite the occasional chuckle.
Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman) Cooper have decided to separate, but they haven’t broke the news to their extended family, all coming home for Christmas. The couple have decided to announce their bad news after one great last weekend together, if they can stop arguing and reminiscing long enough. Eleanor (Wilde) feels like a disappointment to mom and dad, and in an attempt to please them, she coaxes a conservative military guy (Lacy) in the airport bar to be her pretend date. Charlotte’s younger sister Emma (Tomei) too dreads facing the family, also single with no kids, she is arrested at the mall stealing a broach. Grandpa Bucky (Arkin) brings a young waitress (Seyfried) he cares deeply for home to the Coopers, while his son Hank (Helmes) struggles with divorce and unemployment.
It ends up feeling more like a soap opera than a feature.
The true test for films like this is how many of the segments would be interesting on their own. Keaton (5 Flights Up) and Helms (Vacation) are one note actors who deliver the same type of performance in every single movie. Goodman, Wilde and Seyfried trade in their typical edgy or indie characters for more family friendly personas. Wilde (Drinking Buddies) deserves the most credit here because out of all the various plotlines, she and Lacy (Carol) have the only chemistry that might do well on its own. Oscar winner Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) gets some of the best lines, but for every good line there are five bad ones.
If you have ever watched or performed in a non-biblical play at church, this is the type of plotting you see. It ends up feeling more like a soap opera than a feature, with everyone smiling and dancing in the end, because why would you expect anything else? The script is intent on making the audience smile despite some really depressing and genuinely uncomfortable moments. Every time something serious happens (stroke, walk out, anger, a fight, etc), a deflating gag soon follows, with various shots of the family dog covering his eyes or ears. Most of us have to attend some kind of family gathering and having to watch another one on screen might not be everyone’s idea of entertainment.
Despite good intentions, it’s just like every other Christmas movie ever made.