What kind of title is Love The Coopers, anyway? Does it represent the bland sentimentalities of a Hallmark card hastily signed on the way to your parents’ house? Is it meant as a plea to audiences, a last-ditch effort to get you to care about its disparate collection of thinly constructed personalities? This overwrought family Christmas comedy is as devoid of nuance as its plain title suggests. Worse than that, Love The Coopers is overly familiar and exceedingly dull despite its warm, genial cast.
In the snowy suburbs around Pittsburgh, four generations of the Cooper family prepare for their annual Christmas gathering. Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) hope to keep their rocky marriage and impending divorce a secret long enough to host one last, happy family holiday dinner. Their son Hank (Ed Helms), meanwhile, contends with his own marital and parenting issues while keeping his unemployment a secret from ex-wife Angie (Alex Borstein).
Elsewhere, Charlotte and Sam’s daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) kills time at the airport bar, afraid to once again face her parents as a single woman. After an hour or so of flirting with a grounded Army veteran (Jake Lacy), she asks if he’ll help her evade an awkward situation by pretending to be her boyfriend.
Any one of these storylines could have served as the main focus for a “comedy” as clichéd as this one. Instead, Love The Coopers crams these dilemmas alongside sister Emma‘s (Marisa Tomei) envy-fueled bout with kleptomania, father Bucky’s (Alan Arkin) anguish over Ruby the waitress (Amanda Seyfried), Charlie’s (Timothée Chalamet) teenage love drama, Bo’s (Maxwell Simkins) pursuit of a perfect Christmas gift, and Aunt Fishy’s (June Squibb) worsening dementia. There’s also a potty-mouthed toddler (Blake Baumgartner), a gay police officer (Anthony Mackie), and enough schmaltz to make Garry Marshall gag. It’s a ridiculously convoluted assemblage.
It can be painful watching Love The Coopers’ script bend over backward to accommodate its ensemble cast. Storylines are sloppily connected by an omniscient narrator that introduces new scenes with a ham-fisted, “Ruby remembered…,” or a, “As Aunt Fishy slept…,” in order to spoon feed its audience the basic conflicts. When ensemble films without a protagonist succeed – such as in Love Actually – the characters are precisely defined with unique characteristics. Here, the Coopers are no more complex than their occupation and marital status.
From her boozy perch, Eleanor likes to spot strangers in the midst of moments of authentic happiness. Over the course of Love The Coopers’ 106-minute runtime, the movie consistently fails to replicate that feeling of authenticity. Each character is painted with the broadest strokes, single-mindedly occupied with one need. Whether it’s creating the illusion of a happy Christmas, or pretending to be in a happy relationship, the characters here lie to one another or admit to truths entirely in service of the film’s plot.
How Love The Coopers manages to squander a cast as affable and richly talented as this one is perhaps the movie’s most stunning achievement. Crushed underneath the weight of exposition-soaked dialog and well-worn humor (guess what joke is going to be made about Charlotte’s dump salad), actors as dynamic and charismatic as Keaton, Goodman and Wilde are rendered unrelatable. After Tomei’s Emma calls her arresting officer a “robot,” she stiffly jokes, “Take me to your leader,” apparently unaware of the difference between robots and aliens.
Love The Coopers is riddled with these gaps in basic, human logic. Eleanor claims to be dating a man who turns out to live in the city she’s just flown into. After Grandpa Bucky collapses into his mashed potatoes from a stroke, the film sets its three subsequent romantic climaxes in the hospital’s lobby. The movie is so tone-deaf that it ends with the Coopers merrily dancing away Christmas Eve while an unconscious Alan Arkin lies incapacitated and alone in the other room.
This is a lazily assembled film with almost no redeeming qualities. The Coopers aren’t believable as a family, and to be quite honest, they barely even seem like acquaintances. It’s hard to figure out why they dread spending the holiday together so much, but by the end of the film, you too will find it hard to Love The Coopers.
Love the Coopers strains and struggles to weave a story about the pains and pleasures of family around 14 caricatures and a ravenous St. Bernard.