As the first Christmas-themed movie of the season, “Love the Coopers” follows the path of many holiday movies before it: it’s sticky sweet, focuses on family dysfunction, and ties everything together with a big neat bow by the end. Basically, it’s a Lifetime movie on a Hollywood budget.
The film starts with Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” playing as snow falls on a picturesque nameless upstate New York town, as children play, carolers sing, and people shop. We are then introduced to the Coopers (dressed in matching outfits) and their dog by a chatty narrator (Steve Martin). Everything seems perfect in the Cooper household, but their problems quickly come to the surface.
Sam Cooper (John Goodman) and his wife Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are planning to end their 40-year marriage, and fight constantly over how perfect their relationship seemed to be. Their son, Hank (Ed Helms), has just been fired from his job and is divorcing his wife, Angie (Alex Borstein) and their three children are dealing with the change. His sister, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), is a washed-out playwright who brings Joe (Jake Lacy), a soldier she met at the airport to dinner in order to please her mother, who wants a stable relationship for her.
Aside from the main Cooper family, there’s also Emma (Marisa Tomei) who feels subpar to her sister, Charlotte, their father Bucky (Alan Arkin), a cranky old man who visits a diner daily to see waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) to teach her about film. There’s also Sam’s Aunt Fishy (June Squibb), a 90-year-old who serves as comic relief for the film.
After spending nearly half of its running time introducing these characters as separate stories, the film finally goes into the Christmas dinner. We learn their ties to one another, and they start telling the truth and the veneer of happiness starts cracking. By the end of the dinner, the Coopers are at the hospital, hating each other. Not to worry; spoiler alert: they all end up happy and together and there are no consequences for anything that happened.
That’s the biggest problem with this film: everything looks perfect, everyone ends up happy, and nothing ever goes permanently wrong in this snowy town (as a New Jersey native I can assure you that it doesn’t snow this much around Christmas on the East Coast.) It’s sweet, but the movie has an undercurrent of cynicism and a realistic portrayal of relationships (with the exception of Eleanor and Joe’s story, which is just a day-long meet-cute). The ending isn’t warranted, or wanted. Director Jessie Nelson should know better than to use her extremely talented cast for such a cliché ending.
However “Meet the Coopers” is not awful; in the grand scale of ensemble holiday films, it’s almost as good as “Love, Actually” (the Holy Grail of this genre). The characters were well developed for the most part, the cast was likable, the cinematography was lovely, and the script (when not in Hallmark card mode) was clever and earnest. Had Nelson dropped or edited the ending, I might have even said it was a great movie. Too bad I couldn’t.
Photo courtesy of CBS Films