2015 / Director. Jesse Nelson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Another page is torn from the calendar and so begins December, and with it comes the onslaught of Christmas viewing. My first festive film of the year is LOVE THE COOPERS, a new obligatory ensemble piece from I AM SAM director Jesse Nelson.
I went into this one blindly. With barely any pre-conceived expectations, aside from the fact that the cast was impressive and the poster was comical, I suspected a farcical comedy of errors but knew nothing of its story, production or reception...
Following a fairly patchy set-up that indicated it would lean towards the comedy, the film began to take a serious direction and as each of the characters was introduced it was clear that LOVE THE COOPERS had a lot more to offer. It follows the Coopers on Christmas Eve as the four generations of the family negotiate their way home for the holidays. With the help of a narrator (Steve Martin) we follow each of them individually as they each struggle with their own issues while putting on a facade for the sake of family unity. Several of them pick up the company of strangers along the way before arriving home and settling in to the unavoidable collision of personalities and expectations.
This one definitely took me off guard and it struck a chord more than it probably should have. The characters are likeable and their situations are relatable. Each of the players presents them with a subtly that avoids the excessive tropes of eccentricity and levity, and their individual plights are sincere and easy to associate with. Diane Keaton and John Goodman play the parents who are hiding their pending separation while desperate to enjoy one final Christmas together. Alan Arkin is the grandfather who has little time for bickering, while Olivier Wilde plays the spirited daughter with relationship issues. Ed Helms is the recently unemployed and divorced son who struggles to cope but can't reach out for help and Marisa Tomei is single aunty who can't figure out where her life went wrong. Throw in Amanda Seyfried, Alex Borstein, Jack Lacy & Anthony Mackie and you have the ingredients for a really nice film that never quite reaches the greatness it strives for.
It plays out with a similar structure to other well-regarded Christmas films like LOVE ACTUALLY and NOEL, and it may very well secure itself a position of holiday films that we hold in regard in years to come. The narrative uses affective fantasy sequences, which occupy fleeting moments of screen time and reflect the character's inner thoughts. Flashbacks to past memories and happier times are handled nicely and never send the film over that kitschy edge, and the various resolutions and confessions are thankfully restrained.
There are a few cheesy moments within the final act that are overly-sentimental and speak more to the American audience than they will the greater international one. But this IS an American film telling an American story and when it comes to Christmas films they love to pump 'em full of sentiment and good-will. I like that, and I think that it's charming... but there will be those who wont and they may need a strong whiskey to wash down the sugary sweetness.
LOVE THE COOPERS is a nice holiday film that offers more drama than comedy and resists the urge to wrap up character arcs in a nice little bow. It has an end scene that made me cringe but up until that point it won me over, pure and simple.