By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — I tried to. I really did.
After all, the title, Love the Coopers, seems like a demand or an invitation to do just that.
But no movie this incomplete or erratic or disingenuous remains lovable for very long, even when it has its moments, which this one does.
Love the Coopers is a Christmas-themed family comedy in which four generations of the titular clan gather for their traditional Christmas Eve celebration.
The ensemble cast includes Diane Keaton (who also served as one of the executive producers), John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, June Squibb, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, and Steve Martin’s voice as the narrator.
As usual, when they gather in Pittsburgh, the various members of the far-flung family have two things in common: they all want this to be a perfect Christmas and they all harbor secrets they have not yet shared with their loved ones.
For example, longtime marrieds Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman) are about to separate. For example, Charlotte and Sam’s daughter, Eleanor (Wilde), ashamed of being on her own, shows up with a guy making believe he’s her boyfriend. For example, Charlotte’s sister Emma (Tomei) has been caught shoplifting. For example, Charlotte and Emma’s retired-professor father (Arkin) is spending an awful lot of time with a much younger diner waitress (Seyfried).
You get the picture…
Anyway, director Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam; Corrina, Corrina) – working from a quantity-rather-than-quality screenplay by executive producer Steven Rogers, who has also written P.S. I Love You, Stepmom, Kate & Leopold, and Hope Floats — interweaves multiple storylines and piles on the Christmas tunes and holiday spirit as if to distract us from noticing just how formulaic and tired the fractured narrative actually is.
And comfort and joy, while frequently mentioned, are not really to be found.
Now, there’s no denying that grading on a curve is part of the ease-up-it’s-the-holidays portion of the movie calendar, but some holiday movies ask for far much too much leeway.
And because that’s true of Love the Coopers, which is haphazardly structured, it was foolish to include clips of and references to classic holiday movies, which only serve to remind us of how superior they were to the film we’re watching.
Called Christmas with the Coopers in the United Kingdom, this watchable but underachieving romp is in the sub-genre of multi-generational, dysfunctional-family-gathering Yuletide movies such as Four Christmases, Deck the Halls, The Family Stone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Surviving Christmas, and Christmas with the Kranks.
Let’s just say it doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd: there are just too many cliches piled up under that Christmas tree.
As for the able ensemble cast, they’re glaringly unemployed to the point that you find yourself spending some of your mind-wandering time flashing on their better work in other movies.
If a family-celebrating movie awash in Christmas staples and conventions and traditions warms you enough to melt your critical faculties regardless of the quality of the content, you might find this agreeable holiday-season viewing.
But only if…
So we’ll gather around 2 stars out of 4. Love Love the Coopers? Not even close. Loathe Love the Coopers? Ditto.