“Love the Coopers is also guilty of giving A-list actors C-list material.”
I thought that the November film to get American audiences in the spirit for the holidays was a Hollywood convention that has recently gone by the wayside. With films like 2008’s Four Christmases and 2013’s double whammy of The Best Man Holiday and Black Nativity, I thought that Hollywood had traded in the cookie-cutter, family-is-everything films for franchise Christmas titles, but apparently, the presence of Love the Coopers, a film that tries to get us to don our gay apparel early in the month of November, proves me wrong. Despite boasting an incredible ensemble of performers, the film falls prey to the worst conventions of holiday films, as it becomes so invested with cheap pathos, dimestore morals, and downright atrocious narration that it temporarily redirects your anger from premature, non-denominational Starbucks cups and Christmas radio stations before Thanksgiving to the prevalence of rehashed trite now playing in a theater near you.
The film follows four generations of the Cooper family, who are set to gather for the holidays, despite slumping marriages, separating unions, and troubled states of nearly everyone who is attending Christmas dinner. The patriarch and matriarch of the family are Sam and Charlotte (John Goodman and Diane Keaton), who have been married for forty years and are finding themselves in a sea of uncertainty. With that, their children are the single and lonely Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who coerced a stranger (Jake Lacy) she met at a bar to pose as her longtime boyfriend and the recently fired Hank (Ed Helms), who worked as a family photographer, and is now undergoing a rather hasty divorce amidst finding a new job. Also invited to the festivities are Charlotte’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin), his close friend and waitress at his favorite diner Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), whose purpose in the film is questionable at best, Sam’s squirrely Aunt Fishy (June Squibb), and Charlotte’s unmarried, jealous sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), who is picked up for shoplifting by a police officer (Anthony Mackie), whom she manages to get to confess his true feelings while she is handcuffed in the back of his cruiser.
Before having all of these people occupy one frame, we see their daily lives for the first hour of the film, which, as you can imagine, results in a massive amount of storylines to juggle at once. When anthologies and vignette-style films are smoothly structured and developed, it makes you forget you’re watching a film with so many characters (Adam Rifkin’s Look, while more of a drama, is a much better example). It also makes you forget what you’re watching is, essentially, an inherently choppy film with several elements of disjointedness. Love the Coopers makes the common mistakes of flooding us with too many characters to get to know and care about, and too many scenes that transition from bathroom humor to mawkish morality within a minute or two.
Then there’s the problem of there being too many characters and too many plot-strands running with one another and trying to hold the same equitable emotional weight and screentime, rendering Love the Coopers less as a film and more a competition of characters. Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy’s storyline alone probably would’ve made for a likable film, ending with the same conclusion of a large family gathering of her character’s parents, but the film chooses to deviate from her enough to focus on too many perspectives at once.
Love the Coopers is also guilty of giving A-list actors C-list material. There’s no reason stellar supporting performers like John Goodman and June Squibb, whose wonderful work in Nebraska has gone from being an Oscar-nominated laugh riot to her being cast as a senile punching bag, need to be gifted with the kind of material most beginning actors would find themselves hard-pressed to accept on the grounds of sheer idiocy. It’s sad that so few films, particularly hybrids of both comedy and drama, that boast these amazing casts cannot live up to the sheer magnitude of their star power.
With all this and more, throw in some horrible narration that doesn’t justify itself and its pervasive hamfisting of depressingly common morals until the conclusion of the film, and you have Love the Coopers, the kind of that makes you wish we skipped right from October to January for the sake of our emotional health.