Even though Love the Coopers is a holiday comedy about one dysfunctional family, it immediately reminded me of the ensemble comedy romance Valentine’s Day, that was released in 2010.
Christmas may come but once a year, but that is more than enough for the Cooper family. It is a question of bracing yourself for their annual Christmas Eve bash. Narrated by Steve Martin as the pet pooch, the film focuses upon each of the family members and their less than ideal personal relationships and interactions.
With her marriage on the rocks, Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton) has just one wish – to bring the whole family together for one last perfect Christmas. But four generations of the Cooper clan gathering under the same roof is anything but perfect. Charlotte’s husband Sam (John Goodman) is determined to use the holiday season to bring the spark back into their relationship, which has thus far weathered four decades, but his plans aren’t going too well. And this pair isn’t alone in trying to conceal the flaws in their lives. Their perennially single and strong willed playwright daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) persuades Joe, a charming soldier (Jake Lacy) she meets at the airport, to pose as her boyfriend. Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is struggling with single parenthood, while Helms’ eldest son is awkwardly navigating his way through his first crush. And Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), who suffers from sibling rivalry, has a run-in with the law on the day of Christmas Eve. Then there’s Charlotte and Emma’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin), who unexpectedly feels closer to doe-eyed waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) than to his own daughters. That’s not to forget Sam’s affable Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) and the beloved family dog Rags, who has seen more than enough. In short, everything is falling apart and it is a question of whether this family can ever get its act together, individually and collectively.
Nothing sets up comedy and tension better than a story told in compressed time and so it is here. So much about this family is awkward and inappropriate (which is clearly what the script is all about), but I found the pregnant pauses, especially early on, irksome.
Working with cinematographer Elliot Davis, director Jessie Nelson has woven flashbacks into the Yuletide yarn. I dare say very few families would fit the stereotype of what an ideal family might be, but undoubtedly accentuating the negatives is a good way to generate a few guffaws.
Screenwriter Steven Rogers has centred the script on “time”. Rogers makes the point that many people spend a great deal of time dwelling on the past or being upset by it, or worrying about the future and they miss out on the present. He says that “as you get older, you realise what’s important is to be in the moment.” Probably the richest relationship in the film is that between Eleanor and Joe, the bloke she meets in a bar. She plays out all her insecurities, which are dwarfed by her unhealthy focus on herself. As a result she often says the wrong thing. Wilde really nailed her characterisation.
Overall though, Love the Coopers means well, but treads a familiar route that as often as not misses its mark or is a tad lame. While some will laugh, others will greet it with howls of derision. Rated PG, it scores a 5½ to 6 out of 10.
Director: Jessie Nelson
Cast: Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman and Olivia Wilde
Release Date: 26 November, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television