Christmas with the Coopers review: Festive fare isn't a cracker
Despite a thin plot and some strange casting, this heart-warmer follows the usual script of seasonal films well
Christmas with the Coopers, titled Love the Coopers outside the UK and Ireland, is this year's entry into the broadly comic, shamelessly weepy, family get-together festive film sub-genre. If you've seen Love Actually, Christmas with the Kranks, The Family Stone, Deck the Halls, The Holiday, This Christmas, Four Christmases or New Year's Eve, you've seen Christmas with the Coopers. Though if you liked any of those movies, you'll probably like this new offering just as much.
Within the first few minutes, we get a sense of where writer Steven Rogers (P.S. I Love You) and director Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) are going with a 'tale'/'tail' pun courtesy of narrator Rags the dog, voiced by Steve Martin. The humour rarely gets cleverer than that, but the film is warm and sweet-natured, and you may find yourself being drawn into the characters' stories almost in spite of yourself.
As with most of this fare, there isn't so much a plot as there is an array of dysfunctional characters. So, we join well-heeled Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton) as they prepare for the arrival at their sumptuous home of divorced son Hank (Ed Helms), secretly hunting for a new job on Christmas Eve; flighty daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who has hooked up with a God-fearing right-wing solider (Jake Lacy) in an airport bar; and Charlotte's father Bucky (Alan Arkin), the kind of guy who sits around in diners wearing a bow tie and pontificating on Charlie Chaplin movies.
Oh, and somewhere along the way, Marisa Tomei gets arrested, Anthony Mackie comes out as gay and June Squibb farts.
Christmas with the Coopers is essentially a series of inter-cut short films, some of which demand more attention than others. Perhaps the meatiest sub-plot is Sam and Charlotte's own. The couple of 40 years are planning to separate after the holidays, for reasons including the death of a child years earlier and Charlotte's dwindling spontaneity. This adds a chilly tone to proceedings, but it also lends what could otherwise be a quite sickly affair some bite.
And for every melancholic monologue, there are enough scenes of Wilde knocking over suitcases or Helms strumming a guitar to keep things light. Nelson, directing her first feature since 2001, delivers some interesting visual flourishes and draws quality work out of her actors, four of whom are either Oscar winners or nominees.
Still, as talented as the cast undeniably are, some of the casting choices themselves are suspect. It's hard to buy Keaton and Tomei, 69 and 50 respectively, as similarly aged sisters, no matter how much Nelson shoots Keaton in soft focus. Similarly, Goodman might have been a better fit as Helms's big brother than as his dad.
And the less said about 81-year-old Arkin's character's romantic yearning for 29-year-old Amanda Seyfried's suicidal coffee shop waitress, the better.
But hey, any casting director who gives us a 75-pound Australian Shepherd-Saint Bernard cross named Bolt, voiced by the star of The Jerk, can't be all bad.