A traditional holiday film is one that brings a sense of joy and wonder to our hearts. The classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and A Christmas Carol are a few such examples. Several more like to turn that joy and wonder on its head with cynical humor like Scrooged or Bad Santa. Others like to view that mysterious story of Santa Claus from another direction such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, Elf, and Rise of the Guardians. I certainly can’t forget Die Hard, one of the most action-packed Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. I could rattle off many others, but the point is when you watch these movies you know, for the most part, what kind of ride you are in for. Now a scary movie like Black Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night, or the upcoming Krampus is another holiday-themed ride entirely; and yet you still know going in, from the trailers or the title itself, this is a movie my kids probably won’t enjoy, unless they were raised by yuletide lunatics. In all the cases I’ve presented, every film demonstrates a consistent, fluid theme and doesn’t deviate from that intended course. I can’t say the same for our newest addition to the Christmas movie Rolodex.
In Love The Coopers, directed by Jessie Nelson, the Coopers are arranging to have a Christmas dinner, but first have to deal with a carousel of family issues. Holiday movies, like other films, are not short on conflict, but this movie takes a bath in it and never dries off. First up is John Goodman as Sam and his wife Charlotte, played by Diane Keaton. Sam and Charlotte have both decided to postpone announcing their separation until after one last family dinner, but continue to argue about it every chance they get. Their kids, Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), are going through problems of their own. Hank has been a single dad for some time and his ex-wife Angie (Alex Borstein) is no picnic to be around. Hank is also secretly unemployed and this only adds to his stress around the holidays. Meanwhile Eleanor does not want to go to her judging parents’ home without a boyfriend and attempts to convince a newly, recruited soldier (Jake Lacy) to be her date. The pair are polar opposites, but occasionally find chemistry in between arguments. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) has a shoplifting moment and endures a strangely, long car ride with Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie). Bucky (Alan Arkin) is Hank and Eleanor’s grandfather and spends every day at a local diner conversing with an attractive waitress named Ruby (Amanda Seyfriend). Hank’s kids are Bo, Madison, and Charlie and they also have some interesting moments throughout this perplexing day.
Right off the bat, I have to say this is not a holiday film. I only emphasize this point because it’s being advertised in such a way that families will flock to the theaters to watch this after just seeing a poster filled with talented actors, Christmas decorations, and a dog. It is true that Christmas is featured prominently within this movie, and plenty of mentions are made to have a merry one, but every time you begin to glimpse a fun, heartwarming comedy it is replaced with tense arguments and unnecessary drama. It’s almost as if the comedy is subconsciously buried inside the drama and we are supposed to dig it out, but this movie is not charming enough to pull that off. We also have to suffer through narrations of our characters’ backstories for the entire movie, instead of letting the scene unfold and having the audience come up with the motivations of the characters on their own. Narration is a good tool for moving the story along, but I feel it’s overused here. Also it’s needed even less when everything is happening in a single day.
The camera work and editing in this movie was not great for conveying the story being told. When humor was being emphasized, it did not come across that way. When scenes became serious, the camera could have pulled back more and let us take in the whole moment, rather than having their face fill up the screen. The film should have been cut down to 90 minutes because the drama weighs down what little momentum Love The Coopers has. It always feels like no happy ending is in sight and all the arguing will eventually lead to heartbreak. The only thing it has going for it is the fact it is Christmas and the wise, all-knowing narrator would surely not tell this story just to have it all come crashing in our faces.
I did find some positive elements in Love The Coopers, in case you were worried this would be one long downer. The scenes where some of our characters are demonstrating acts of bravery, but are actually daydreaming about what they wish they’d done, are entertaining. The scenes involving Alan Arkin are a pleasure because he breathes life into every character he inhabits. Marisa Tomei’s scenes with Anthony Mackie are also interesting and could almost be a short film by itself. I mostly enjoyed Olivia Wilde’s scenes with Jake Lacy in the airport, but the chemistry falls apart when the movie repeatedly makes them break up after saying something unforgivable. In any other movie, it may have worked and could even have been its own feature film of someone finding companionship in an airport. It’s the incompatibility of the scenes themselves that makes Love The Coopers so hard to watch. Movies like Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, or Love Actually tackle ensemble casts fairly well and bring it all together in the end, but the scenes here are all over the place and lack cohesion. The strangest part is when things do eventually settle down in the last ten minutes and you’re reminded this is a holiday movie where things always work out. It’s as if the writer got worried he was running long and wrapped up everything in the last few pages, nevermind the complete lack of character development or a logical resolution to everyone’s problem.
Love The Coopers is not the holiday movie anyone is looking for, but there are moments to enjoy nonetheless. It’s times like these I miss John Hughes even more. He could write damaged characters with such a charming zeal. The holidays are supposed to be fun, even if that fun is bloody mayhem. This movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be and will have you shrugging it off like so many Hallmark Christmas movies that pass your field of vision on Netflix every year. May I suggest instead a hot cup of cocoa, a warm blanket, and stay home, alone, watching Home Alone. Or Die Hard.
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About Love The Coopers
Synopsis: When four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.
Director: Jessie Nelson
Writers: Steven Rogers
Stars: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Alex Borstein, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacy, June Squibb, Anthony Mackie, Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins, Blake Baumgartner, Molly Gordon
Runtime: 106 Minutes