Review: Love the Coopers
PLOT: Various members of a dysfunctional family struggle to get themselves ready for a Christmas dinner.
REVIEW: LOVE THE COOPERS is like a Hallmark Channel original movie with a better-than-expected cast. A saccharine, sappy holiday dramedy taken straight from the cookie-cutter, it's the type of film you'd recommend to your old aunt who's looking for something inoffensive to take in during a slow Sunday. It's not without a handful of charming bits, but overall it's a forgettable trifle, notable only for its dependable roster of acting vets.
I bet you never considered this, but it's tough for some families to come together for Christmas. Plus, the season in general is pretty crazy and sometimes we forget the true meaning of it all. If only we'd sit down, hash things out, avert a crisis or two together, everything would be fine and we'd have a very Merry Christmas indeed. You see where I'm going with this: LOVE THE COOPERS is one of those movies where members of an extended clan think they can't stand one another but a few well-placed Xmas miracles and minor crises manage to part the clouds and everyone ends up dancing in a hospital together. Whenever a film features constant cutaways to a dog comically reacting to the situation at hand, you're in a bit of trouble; then again, if these things are in your wheelhouse, LOVE THE COOPERS is absolutely for you.
John Goodman and Diane Keaton play Sam and Charlotte Cooper, a happy couple for most of their 40 years together but of late finding it more and more difficult to avoid the fact they're drifting apart. (Sam wanted to take a vacation to Africa and Charlotte canceled at the last minute, which is the main sticking point for them at the moment.) Because Christmas is upon them, they have to play nice for their kids and close relatives, who all have problems of their own: Oldest son Hank (Ed Helms) has been laid off and is struggling to deal with a marital separation, while his sister Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is drifting aimlessly, having an affair with a married man and paranoid she's a constant disappointment to her family. Charlotte's sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is single and lonely and evidently a kleptomaniac, while their widowed father Bucky (Alan Arkin) is recently heartbroken by the news that his favorite waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), is leaving the diner he goes to everyday. Then there's Hank's son Charlie (Timothee Chalamet), who is going through the throes of teenage angst after his parents divorce while dealing with a crush on the cute girl next door and having to look out for his weird little brother Bo (Maxwell Simkins).
What's missing from this lovably discordant family? How about a wacky old aunt (June Squibb) who says all kinds of silly things at inopportune moments? How bout a cherubic little girl who hilarious spouts, "You're such a dick" at even more inopportune moments? Don't forget the aforementioned dog who is around for everything and adorably covers his eyes when in the midst of an awkward exchange.
Screenwriter Steven Rogers claims credits like STEPMOM, KATE AND LEOPOLD and P.S. I LOVE YOU, so it's not exactly a surprise that his latest is as unchallenging and mawkish as a holiday comedy could get. The problems of these people really don't amount of a hill of beans, and their journeys before coming together for a fateful Christmas dinner are fairly contrived; we're even treated to an extended meet-cute between Wilde's sardonic, wayward character and a straight-arrow, conservative soldier (Jake Lacy) who she convinces to pose as her boyfriend for the sake of her family. (Wonder if they eventually fall in love for real?) All of this is reported thoroughly by an unseen narrator (Steve Martin) who helpfully fills in every last detail for us in case we're not looking at the screen. (The narration is utterly unnecessary, only justified by a twist ending explaining the source of the constant yammering.)
And yet, aside from all of my obvious cynicism toward it, LOVE THE COOPERS does earn a few points for just how harmless it is - it's ever-so-slightly refreshing for this crusty critic to see a movie that is completely without mean-spiritedness - save for a few easy jabs at the expense of the soldier, a Republican. The cast elevates the material just a bit: Wilde is the highlight, giving depth to a character who is, on paper, rather unlikable; the movie perks up every time she's on screen. Goodman, Keaton and Arkin are naturally reliable no matter what the situation, and while their characters don't offer any surprises, they're a pleasure to watch. Ed Helms is pretty much wasted, though, and Tomei's scenes - which are shared predominantly with Anthony Mackie, playing a gay cop who confides in her - are intensely boring.
Director Jessie Nelson attempts to insert some flavor into the by-the-numbers script with some visual trickery - you can expect plenty of random inserts of flashbacks, movie clips and the fantasies of characters - but they only underline the fact that this is a movie desperate to win your affection, an irritating trait. If the script were good, we wouldn't constantly need to be knocked over the head with these faux-cute asides. Sentimental fluff I can handle, but not when it's so crushingly predictable and lame.
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