It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but already there’s a turkey on display: Love the Coopers, yet another of those all-star, ensemble, dysfunctional-family comedy/ dramas that tends to descend each holiday season – this being a particularly pallid example.
Mom and Dad are Diane Keaton (also an executive producer) and John Goodman, trying to maintain a normal front despite deciding to divorce after 40 years of marriage. Grandpa is Alan Arkin (always welcome, even under these circumstances). The kids, who have problems of their own, are Ed Helms and Olivia Wilde. The “wacky” (read: senile) aunt is June Squibb. Keaton’s sister is played by Marisa Tomei. The grandkids include Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins and Blake Baumgartner. Other involved parties include Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Alex Borstein and Jake Lacy. The family dog, who narrates the proceedings in Jean Shepherd/Christmas Story fashion, is voiced by Steve Martin.
This is a capable and talented cast, unfortunately at the mercy of the screenplay by Steven Rogers, whose previous (equally merciless) credits include Hope Floats (1998), Stepmom (also ‘98) and P.S. I Love You (2007), and slack direction by Jessie Nelson, who also had a hand in Stepmom and whose last feature was I Am Sam (2001), which snared Sean Penn the leastdeserved Oscar nomination of his career.
There are a few amusing gags and insights, but much of the time Love the Coopers falls (way) back into sappy, soggy sentiment that is top-heavy with Christmas trappings. The actors with the least to do – Seyfried, Squibb and Mackie – are luckier than those with the most to do, although Lacy (who recalls a young Michael Biehn) manages to inject some charm into his role as a soldier whom Wilde impetuously convinces to pose as her boyfriend. He also happens to be a Republican, which yields some of the film’s worst jokes – enough to make any card-carrying Democrat switch parties. (Hey, Republicans are people, too.)
The clumsy, episodic structure culminates, at (very) long last, with the Christmas dinner that turns catastrophic. Nevertheless, by the time the end credits roll, everything is hunky-dory. The Coopers are all right. But we knew that going in, didn’t we? Love the Coopers isn’t so much Christmas cheer as a Christmas jeer. !
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