Movie review: Family and dysfunction mark Christmas with the ‘Coopers’
–There are a few constants this time of year: The shopping centers are crowded, egg nog is plentiful, family gatherings are on the horizon, and Hollywood will offer holiday movies.
Sometimes they come in the form of cozy gems to watch on the Hallmark channel at home. Sometimes they’re funny and heart-warming. Other times, the holiday films focus on what it means to spend time with family — a “warts and all” approach.
“Love the Coopers,” the first Christmas-themed film to hit theaters this season — takes the latter approach. There’s comedy and all the trappings of Christmas, but this isn’t always an easy film to watch. If we’re honest however, it isn’t always easy when families get together for the holidays.
The film focuses on the Cooper family on Christmas Eve. They are preparing to gather together, but there’s plenty of baggage to go around. Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam Cooper (John Goodman) have been married for 40 years, but they’ve hit a rough patch. They’ve lost that spark and can’t seem to find it. Sam is ready to move out, but first Charlotte asks him to help her host one last perfect family Christmas.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marissa Tomei), and her father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), are having their own struggles. Emma feels disappointed in how her life has turned out, and she feels inferior to her sister — who she sees as a model of family and perfection. She lashes out by shop lifting, which lands her in police custody. During the ride to the station, she tries to connect with the officer (Anthony Mackie) in hopes of some compassion. What she finds is a connection both of them needed.
Bucky feels lost in his life, too. His strongest connection seems to be with a waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), at his local diner. When he finds out she’s moving on, Bucky feels frustrated and isolated.
Charlotte’s kids are struggling, too. Her daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), is pessimistic about her family gathering and stuck in the wrong relationship. Her son, Hank (Ed Helms), is struggling as a single father and looking for a new career path. He’s also fighting with his ex-wife, Angie (Alex Borstein), about a myriad of topics.
As the Coopers gather for Christmas dinner, all their problems and struggle boil to the surface, forcing them to consider what they really have, what they want and what they don’t want to lose.
Like traditional holiday movies, “Love the Coopers” has some moments of comedy and it has the happy ending you’re expecting. This isn’t a movie that ends on a sour note, but rather a hopeful note. That doesn’t mean everything comes out perfectly.
Writer Steven Rogers has a knack for mixing comedy, romance and drama. He’s previously written “Stepmom,” “Hope Floats” and “P.S. I Love You.” You get a similar kind of feel from this movie, with an added layer of holiday themes and cheer.
Director Jessie Nelson — whose last film was “I Am Sam” 15 years ago — has a feel for this story and gets the most out of a talented cast. This isn’t a perfect movie, and it’s not light and fluffy movie like “Elf,” but it feels honest and interesting. You invest in the characters and the story, and I liked how it put all those pieces together.
The movie makes the most of its cast, too. Arkin, Keaton and Goodman — all veteran actors — sink into their parts and help elevate the material. Helms is good in his role, too, finding a nice blend of comedy and drama.
But the story that most drew me in was between Wilde, as daughter Eleanor, and Jake Lacy as the soldier she picks up at the airport. Their scenes and dialogue were some of the best in the film, and their story had, to me, the most interesting arc. It might have also been the most typical and predictable in these kind of films, but their performances made it work.
“Love the Coopers” isn’t a perfect movie, and it might not be the kind of instant classic you think of during the holiday season. But it touched on some truth about family and the holidays, and it put it together in an entertaining package.
“Love the Coopers” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for thematic elements, language and some sexuality.
Three stars out of four.