'Love the Coopers'
The holiday season wouldn’t be complete with some sort of maudlin family special at the multiplex. This year, that pile of Christmas crap arrives in ‘Love the Coopers’, one of the most tediously dull and frustrating entries in the genre to arrive in quite some time.
This is a movie for people who felt that ‘Love Actually’ was far too realistic and humorous for their tastes. It’s a collection of tiresome life lessons perpetrated by a talented cast who really should have better things to do than headline a messy Merry Christmas movie in the hopes of scoring some sweet annual residual checks.
‘Love the Coopers’ is one of those sprawling ensemble pieces in which a bunch of recognizable faces go through a series of emotional struggles that can only be solved with one magical family Christmas. At the center are John Goodman and Diane Keaton as Sam and Charlotte, a married couple on the verge of divorce putting on a happy face to host a big dinner. Marisa Tomei plays Charlotte’s hard luck sister, who spends the day in the back of a squad car swapping life lessons with a robotic cop (Anthony Mackie) after a li’l holiday shoplifting. Ed Helms plays their oldest child, who can’t afford X-mas gifts for his own kids because he was fired just in time for the holidays. Olivia Wilde is their endlessly disappointing daughter who talks a soon-to-deploy soldier (Jake Lacy) into pretending to be her fiancé for the occasion. Alan Arkin pops up as the wise old grand-pappy who has an odd, flirtatious relationship with a waitress played by Amanda Seyfried. Everyone goes through gently comedic tragedy that couldn’t possibly be cured by everyone learning to accept their family just in time for the holidays, could it?
So… yeah… it’s pretty much exactly the movie you’d expect, only not quite as heavy on the comedy as the trailers suggest. This is more of a melodramatic tale of light and easily curable melancholy in need of X-mas magic. The sudden bursts of fart jokes and slapstick are more irritating than welcome comedic interludes because they’re executed with the same sledgehammer subtlety as the tedious drama.
You’d think that an ensemble cast this good might at least be able to save Jessie Nelson’s (‘I Am Sam’) mess of a movie from itself, but not so much. There’s just too much dreary, weepy manipulation going on for any actor to break through. To make matters worse, the 107-minute marathon feels like it’s been so over-edited to cram all the stories into a reasonable running time that no one gets the screen time, momentum or focus to develop much character. The movie races between plots to shorten the running time, needlessly truncating scenes before they get a chance to ripen, and often confusing the timelines or even removing setups to punchlines.
The closest thing to a saving grace the movie has in the misfit love story between Wilde and Lacy, who are just pretty and charming enough to bring their scenes to life. However, even that plotline is frequently halted by forced Christian messages and odd directorial choices, like having the actors deliver key lines of dialogue directly to the camera instead of each other for inexplicable reasons.
The whole thing is a big waste of time and talented that’s so cynically constructed to capitalize on holiday cheer that it never feels sincere for a moment. ‘Love the Coopers’ will likely be a low point in the careers of everyone involved, and a low point guaranteed to run annually on TV networks too cheap to pay for a real holiday classic. As tough as it will be for audiences to suffer through it now, there’s solace to be found in the fact that these actors will feel similar pains when they start accidentally stumbling on it channel surfing in Decembers yet to come (kind of like their own personal Ghost of Christmas Past).
To top it all off, none other than Steve Martin provides a disinterested voiceover that ties everything together and peaks with a laugh-out-loud horrible reveal that’ll make his fans long for the days of ‘Bringing Down the House’. Yes, this is one big Christmas-flavored failure for all concerned. On the plus side, at least there’s a Krampus movie coming to please all the Scrooges like me and make up for the sentimental toothache I’ll have for weeks after suffering through ‘Love the Coopers’.