Love the Coopers (2015)
Directed by Jessie Nelson
“Love the Coopers,” erroneously billed as a comedy, hits you hard with themes of regret, forgiveness, and divorce. This Christmas dinner sits a little heavier in your stomach than you might be used to from the lighter, more traditional, holiday fare.
Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam Cooper (John Goodman) are getting divorced. That’s pretty much the only thing they can agree on after forty years of marriage. But Charlotte wants nothing more than one last normal Christmas together with her family. Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is reeling after his own recent separation with Angie (Alex Borstein) and their daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) can’t bear the thought of going home alone to face her mother’s disapproval. Charlotte’s estranged sister (Marisa Tomei) and their father (Alan Arkin), and also Sam’s hilarious Aunt Fishy (June Squibb), are all there, too. With the entire dysfunctional family present, it’ll be a Christmas none of them will ever forget.
Diane Keaton is a goddess, a marvel, and the shining matriarch that gives “the Coopers” their/its appeal. Alan Arkin gives a surprisingly heartfelt performance. On the flip side, Olivia Wilde’s character is too clichéd for her to handle naturally. Marisa Tomei has similar issues. I’ve always been a fan of everyman John Goodman, who never seems like he’s really acting. Amanda Seyfried, as a diner waitress, is underutilized. Even when she has screen time, she has few lines. Ed Helms has dipped his toe into dramatic films before, and he’s not bad at it. Here, though, he never has a memorable moment. He’s a minor player. Not that it’s a bad thing.
With its intersecting storylines, “Love the Coopers” feels like a misguided attempt to recreate the glory of “Love Actually,” which in my mind went down, in 2003, as the best Christmas movie ever made. The way writer Steven Rogers (“P.S. I Love You”) pieces together the many individual stories being told in “Love the Coopers”—across time and geographical distance—is jumbled at best. Omniscient narration (from a special surprise voice) is a risky move for any movie, and in “Love the Coopers” it seems overused. Also, can I say I hate the stylization of the title “Love the Coopers”? Without a comma, it reads like a commandment—a commandment, I’ll add, that’s a tough sell, considering the unlikable characters introduced to us. Charlotte and Sam are grumpy, Eleanor is judgmental. The Coopers are a hectic hodge-podge of disagreeable stereotypes. Thankfully, they become more human in time. I guess that’s the point.
Rogers’ script comes off as lofty and recycled, a preachy attempt at the depth that felt unnatural for almost every character. It tries to be too big. Or so I initially thought. But around the half-way point, you start to see that this story is using stereotypes to its advantage. What could have been a sappy tale of the power of Christmas or a distasteful dissection of an ailing marriage begins to be told in a way that made me rethink what I thought at the beginning of the film. Maybe it wasn’t too substantive for its own good. Maybe it was just poignant enough to make a point and present a positive holiday message. “Love the Coopers” strikes a balance between too optimistic and too pessimistic. It’s undeniably realistic, at least most of the time (sometimes the situational coincidences, like those in many movies, can be downright absurd). It evokes the classic Christmas movies of old, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” without making you roll your eyes at the sentimentality of it. It’s not as light as I normally like my holiday stories, but that’s not a bad thing. “Love the Coopers” is a heartwarming and relatable tale. Maybe the themes have been used before, but two hours passed and I was still interested. I was smiling. And I was thinking. What more could you want from a Christmas movie? Happy Holidays!