Directed by Jessie Nelson
Written by Steven Rogers
Each year I hear complaints about how early it gets dark after daylight savings time ends. Each year I hear complaints about how early Christmas is projected on the consuming public by corporations, and even radio stations. First of all, of course it’s dark out, it happens every year, get used to it. Second of all, I agree, any reference to Christmas prior to Thanksgiving is annoying. Because of the impending extravaganza of Christmas, I have always thought Thanksgiving is one of the most overlooked and underrated American holidays. Even this year there are complains about Starbucks red holiday cups. All this insanity only serves to detract from the true spirit of both of these holidays. We are entering into the time of year meant to be thankful, to get together with our family, and celebrate all our blessing, not to lament our perceived curses.
The first Christmas movie of the season, Love the Coopers, finds a comfortable mix of exploring both the blessings and curses that come with having a large, eclectic family. Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are the head of the family, but after 40 years of marriage, they are starting to consider calling it quits now that the children are grown. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marissa Tomei) has always been jealous of what her sister has, living a solitary life. Since his wife passed years ago, their father (Alan Arkin) has enjoyed spending time with a pleasant waitress (Amanda Seyfried), who is now considering starting over in a new city. Hank’s (Ed Helms) marriage is on the rocks with Angie, leaving him feeling inadequate, unable to support his family while unemployed. Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), on the other hand, can’t ever seem to find the right guy, always disappointing her mother. Avoiding spending time with her family, she kills time in the airport after flying in only to strike up a conversation with Joe (Jake Lacy), whom she convinces to pose as her boyfriend just to appease her parents.
The large celebrity cast with multiple storylines coming together has been done many times before, so much so you can probably make it its own “Constellation” subgenre (Love Actually, Valentine’s Day, August: Osage County, etc.). So as you might imagine, the filmmakers must force a lot of characterization in a small amount of time in order to cover all the bases of the plot. As a result, the exposition at the beginning of the film is both lazy and necessary, as we are force fed what we need to know about these characters and why. The viewer can either take this for what it is, or use it as a reason to dismiss the film entirely. But what makes Love the Coopers different from other “Constellation” films are the performances behind these clichéd characters, and the heart with which the story is delivered, in spite of the predictable, well-trodden plot. The ensemble gives a wonderful performance with the Alan Arkin/Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Wilde/Jake Lacy storylines being my two favorite.
Love the Coopers serves as an adequate reminder of those flaws which make us human, which alienate even those closest to us. We are all imperfect beings, and like the Emma, even when we try to project the person we want to be, we can fall short, and retreat back to those idiosyncrasies we hate about ourselves. But it also recalls the small perfections of the human condition, such as our ability to love endlessly, especially in the moments where that undefinable emotion has perhaps been otherwise forgotten and forgiveness appears unattainable, or worse, unable to be given. The gifts of Christmas are often greater than the material things we exchange, and while I agree, once again with Emma, that you can’t “schedule happiness” with Christmas, I view the Holidays as an opportunity to get away from the daily grind of life and get together with those you love, whether that be family, friends, pets, or something else. Unfortunately we sometimes lose track of time and priorities. Christmas gives us that chance to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.
So while Love the Coopers may paint with fairly broad strokes, creating rather standard, stereotypical characters who embody the walking cliché, Love the Coopers is surprisingly effective in its ability to achieve its modest goals. It is a film with no more ambitions than to simply entertain, relate, and evoke a certain love of Christmastime and family. For these reasons, you may find it airing on the likes of TBS some December afternoon in future holiday seasons and I for one would have no objections to its playing in the background of my yuletide occasion. It is by no means a Holiday classic, but is a cozy Christmas film capable of warming a room when temperatures drop and snow falls.
*** – Good