I went into Love the Coopers looking for some early Yuletide cheer but ended up getting a lump of coal. I’m not entirely sure why because I’ve been good this year. I sat through Mortdecai, Hot Pursuit, Fantastic 4 and Hitman: Agent 47. Doesn’t that warrant an early Christmas present at the movies?
Apparently not.The pieces for something sweet and enjoyable are hidden deep within Love the Coopers but writer Steven Rogers (who has penned previous schmaltz like P.S. I Love You and Stepmom) never brings anything to the forefront. Director Jessie Nelson provides absolutely no energy in her direction to keep Love the Coopers moving at an entertaining pace. At 107 minutes, Love the Coopers feels like a holiday party you just want to leave after five minutes.
It’s a shame really that not much works in this movie because the cast is top-to-bottom wonderful. Who doesn’t enjoy the offbeat charms of Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Marisa Tomei? Who didn’t fall in love with June Squibb when she was working the awards circuit for Nebraska? Throw in Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Wilde and you have one of the most charming casts of the year and they’re completely wasted.
Keaton – much like her The Family Stone role – is the matriarch of the family. She plays Charlotte, who is desperate for one last great Christmas before her and Sam (Goodman) tell their children they are splitting after 40 years of marriage. Their kids are Hank (Helms), who recently lost his job as a photographer and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), a playwright and the black sheep of the family. Also expected at dinner is Charlotte’s insecure sister Emma (Tomei), their father, Bucky (Alan Arkin) and sassy Aunt Fishy (Squibb).
A few extra guests turn up at the dinner table on Christmas Eve. Eleanor, tired of being seen as such a lonely disappointment, brings Joe (Jake Lacy) to dinner, who she just met at the airport. She concocts a story of how they met so it seems they have been dating for some time. Wilde and Lacy have great chemistry and a few good scenes together, giving Love the Coopers small moments of spark.
In a weirder subplot, Arkin’s character goes to the same diner every morning to talk about life and movies with Seyfried’s Ruby. She is a lonely and depressed waitress who doesn’t seem to have anyone to spend the holidays with besides Bucky. Their relationship feels forced and undefined by the screenplay. As a devout Charlie Chaplin fan, Bucky and Ruby almost pulled me in with their discussion of City Lights but I wasn’t taking the bait. There’s too much going on throughout Love the Coopers and it never finds a flow to telling the typical dysfunctional family story it wants to share. All of the characters feel like they are in their own story and not a larger one. Like those awful Gary Marshall films, this could have just been called Christmas Eve.
Oh, and a familiar voice narrates the whole thing, spoon-feeding us the entire story. The narration is given a small twist and when it’s revealed (you will predict it way before), prepare to roll your eyes.