Better save the gift receipt if you’re considering seeing Love the Coopers, a convoluted cinematic equivalent to that fruitcake nobody wanted. Bottom line, this won’t be a new holiday tradition for anyone.
Narrated by Steve Martin, the film looks at the Cooper clan as they prepare to come together for Christmas.
Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are preparing to separate after 40 years of marriage, but Charlotte wants one more perfect Christmas memory before breaking the news. Goodman and Keaton are strong enough performers to dutifully drag their limp, predictable subplot to respectability, but it’s solely due to their likability.
Olivia Wilde (Her) has an impossible task of trying to find a way to make her character, Eleanor, remotely enjoyable or sympathetic. As Sam and Charlotte’s oldest, self-loathing daughter, Eleanor is caustic, distant and unapproachable. Her world at arms length approach is challenged when she meets Joe (Jake Lacy, Obvious Child), a handsome soldier set to be deployed.
Based on the amount of time screenwriter Steven Rogers devotes to their subplot, I got the sense he would have much rather just written a cutesy romantic comedy about opposites attracting in an airport and Eleanor convincing Joe to be her pretend boyfriend for Christmas dinner.
Their scenes are filled with a generous heaping of these drastically opposed personalities impossibly connecting in a way that only occurs in the movies. Joe is charming, funny and looks like Captain America in his uniform so it’s easy to see the appeal for Eleanor. It’s less obvious from the other perspective as Eleanor is more of a train wreck than Amy Schumer.
Eleanor’s brother, Hank (Ed Helms, Vacation) a laid-off department store family photographer struggling to find a job and getting emotionally beat down by his ex-wife for failing to help out financially with their three children.
The youngest, Madison (Blake Baumgartner) is reduced to a Bart Simpson-esque catchphrase while the oldest, Charlie (Timothée Chalamet) is trying to talk to his crush with the unlikely assistance from his little brother, Bo (Maxwell Simkins).
Rogers starts and stops explaining this magical connection Hank had while taking a photo of Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, Pan). Instead, Rogers spends more time exploring Ruby’s connection with Bucky (Alan Arkin, Grudge Match) one of the regulars at her diner. Bucky is harboring a crush that he knows can’t go anywhere and it’s made all the more awkward when it’s revealed that Bucky is Hank’s grandfather.
Another complicated relational connection is Marisa Tomei’s Emma, who’s kept largely away from the family until the final act.
Deciphering where the various characters fit into the family is more confusing and convoluted than necessary. Tomei and Keaton play sisters despite a 19-year-age gap. The flashbacks make Charlotte and Emma seem just a few years apart, which doesn’t register. Tomei and Helms have a nine-year-age gap and the 19-year difference between Tomei and Wilde doesn’t seem as significant.
Emma gets busted for shoplifting and is being transported to the police station by officer Percy Williams (Anthony Mackie, Ant-Man) who Emma convinces to open up to her. Percy being a closeted gay black man serves to cross off two minority checklists as opposed to thoughtfully tackling any social issue.
The main problem is besides Sam and Charlotte, none of the characters seem real, but rather a grab bag of cliche character types we’ve seen far too often with little fresh to bring to the story. Across the board the cast does its best with the material, but they’re not (Christmas) miracle workers.
Director Jessie Nelson has some fun with the formula working in some creative effects like characters turning to ice and shattering, bursting into a puff of smoke or shifting to their childhood selves while arguing.
Too often though, Nelson’s directorial style is too in your face … literally. Nelson zooms in so close on the character’s faces in dialogue heavy scenes that I felt like I was long past invading their personal space. That shooting technique may work in small doses in a much more serious dramatic piece, but it felt far too intrusive in this instance.
If you’re looking to add another holiday ensemble to add to your Christmas movie rotation you won’t find it with Love the Coopers. You’re better off giving Love Actually and This Christmas another viewing instead.