By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
Almost every single modern, ensemble holiday movie seems to have the same structure. Characters have problems. The holiday, whichever one it is, seems to magnify the character’s woes. Characters have to face their problems. Characters develop new relationships or reinforce established ones and this helps with the problems. Things have a way of working all out in the end.
As I began to watch Love the Coopers, something about the introduction promises that this time, things will be different. I don’t know if it was the narration by Steve Martin or the first introduction of the somewhat realistic characters, but part of me actually began to hope. However, by the time the movie reaches its predictable and formulaic conclusion, any perceived promises had been broken.
To its credit, and barely to its benefit, the film does have a talented cast. John Goodman and Diane Keaton star as Sam and Charlotte Cooper, a long-time married couple with relationship woes who have decided to sweep these woes under the rug to guarantee their family a wonderful Christmas celebration. Sam and Charlotte are hosting a lovely dinner with all the trimmings and fixings. They are expecting their distant daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), their closer, but troubled son Hank (Ed Helms), along with his children, Sam’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin), and Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marissa Tomei). In addition to the problems ignored by Sam and Charlotte, everyone else has their share of issues and tribulations. As expected, the Christmas holiday and the family celebration of it seem to magnify these problems and the Cooper family will have much to deal with before the cutting of the turkey even begins.
Written by Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Stepmom) and directed by Jessie Nelson (Corinna, Corinna; I Am Sam), Love the Coopers offers somewhat realistic characters, but the film soon takes them on a transparent journey to a predictable outcome. The movie promises something different, but ends up giving audiences more of the same. In fact, the story’s progression feels rather forced and unnatural, all for the purpose of arriving at a happy and an attempted heart-warming ending to get people in the holiday spirit.
Make no mistake. I am not so cynical and “bah-humbug” about the holiday season that my opinion of this film has already been determined prior to its viewing. I actually had moderate hopes for the film with some moderate trepidations. The facts that the film has such an excellent cast, was actually part of the film lineup of the 2015 Austin Film Festival (which celebrates writing in film) and the realistic take on the characters with issues all were part of that promise that just didn’t come to fruition. The movie does have some genuinely funny moments, but these are not enough to salvage the movie.
To be completely fair, though, holiday movies are really difficult to pull off. There have already been several movies of both excellent and terrible varieties that have preceded these modern attempts. The key to making a great holiday classic is to go somewhere where no other filmmaker and writer have ever gone before. Until that happens, I’m sure Love the Coopers will be joined by many other copycats in future holiday seasons. My suggestion, as usual, is for movie audiences to heed their favorite critics and not spend their money on them.