Christmas with the Coopers Review
Christmas with the Coopers (or Love the Coopers in the US) had all the necessary ingredients for a heart-warming, family Christmas tale. There’s a solid ensemble cast; a vignette format much like Love Actually; a combination of romance and comedy likely to appeal to all generations; and cute pets thrown in for good measure. In the spirit of group comedy-dramas such as The Big Wedding, in which Amanda Seyfried and Diane Keaton also star, Coopers could have been an enjoyably cheesy watch. However, the film does not come together as a coherent whole, and is instead plagued by terrible plotting and poor direction.
The Coopers are the classic conflicted family - and as is usually the case, each of them are facing their own defining problem. Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman), who are hosting Christmas this year, have decided to separate after decades of marriage. Keaton and Goodman have chemistry, and thanks to this, their story is perhaps the most moving of the lot. There's something stirring about watching the couple still in love, yet profoundly dissatisfied, face their last Christmas together.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin), is a lonely old man, whose only friend is Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), a twenty-something waitress in his regular diner. Ruby is equally lonely, and their rapport is charming as they chit-chat about films, their families, and plans for Christmas. The impression sours quickly. Things get a bit creepy, Harold & Maude-style, when Ruby announces that she’s leaving town. What looked at first to be a cosy friendship moulds into a bizarre, cross-generational, sort-of-romance. There’s (thankfully) no acknowledgement that the two should be together - but rather, that they would have liked to, had Bucky been fifty years younger. Much like her recent role in Pan, Seyfried criminally underused in this film, with not much more to do than look distraught.
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s son Hank (Ed Helms) is looking for a new job, hiding from everyone, especially his ex-wife, that he has been let off. His storyline is a series of dull, clichéd interviews, and his dedication to his previous job - a family photographer - comes across as forced. Helms is only given a chance to shine when he recounts the story of his separation from his ex-wife Angie (Alex Borstein).
There’s also Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), generally resentful, who gets caught stealing in a mall. Her segment is the worst of the group - her theft is inexplicable, and thus it is difficult to understand or sympathise with the character. What’s more, Tomei spends most of her screen time at the back of a police car, in an increasingly inane and implausible exchange with the cop (Anthony Mackie) driving her to the station.
Finally - Charlotte’s daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) meets soldier Joe (Jake Lacy) at an airport, and convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend over Christmas. Wilde and Lacy have a great dynamic, and scriptwriter Steven Rogers gives them the film’s best lines. The contrast between Olivia’s east coast liberal mindset and Joe’s conservatism makes their scenes genuinely funny.
These mini-plots all hint at the promise of a satisfying outcome culminating in a dramatic Christmas evening. However, the script’s structure does not do them justice. Rogers spends too much time building up each story, either with repetitive scenes, or showing characters doing Christmassy things that have no relation to the plot. It doesn’t help that director Jessie Nelson sets most of these in transport-related settings: the combination of multiple car journeys, trams, or airport layovers come to feel interminable and claustrophobic.
As a result, there is too little time left to satisfyingly resolve each conflict on the Christmas night itself. The film’s last 30 minutes feel impossibly contrived. There is something horribly artificial in seeing (almost) all the singletons paired off into neat romantic relationships within minutes; decade-long feuds resolve with a few words; political differences whisked away; and characters having sudden, life-changing realisations.
A good, sappy family comedy can do wonders for the Christmas spirit - sadly, Coopers will provoke little beyond boredom and a touch of annoyance. Sabotaged by lousy plotting and clumsy direction, it’s a disappointing watch.