by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)
One could argue that holiday-themed films about families coming together, despite their bickering and differences, are a dime a dozen nowadays. They're those warm-and-fuzzy ensemble pieces that come with all the trimmings: Adorable dog who eats from the dining table! The miserable sister who'll never find love! The cute kid whose purpose is to run a recurring joke into the snow-covered ground (in between watching his parents fight, of course)!
Love The Coopers is no different (except for one thing, which I'll get to later).
Diane Keaton and John Goodman play Charlotte and Sam, the heads of the titular family. Sam's ready to announce to their brood that, after 40 years of marriage, he and Mama Cooper are planning to go their separate ways (the word "divorce" is never tossed around, so you know they ain't that serious). All Charlotte wants is to have one last picture-perfect Christmas with their grown children and grandkids before everything crumbles.
And let's talk about Ms. Keaton for a minute: At this point in her career, it appears she's gravitating towards roles that are as interchangeable as a wooden nutcrackers on a fireplace mantle. (Perhaps this requires a bigger discussion on what roles are available for someone of her caliber.) Maybe something about her just screams snow-globe-collecting-WASP-who-loves-Restoration-Hardware. Her Charlotte Cooper is no different from the frazzled-but-smartly-dressed sexagenerians she has portrayed ever since she nailed it in 2003's Something's Gotta Give. The typecasting, at this point, is so embarrassingly obvious. More proof can be found in forgettable titles like 2014's And So It Goes, 2013's The Big Wedding, and 2012's Darling Companion. But there's one movie on Keaton's IMDB page for which Coopers feels like direct carbon copy, and that's 2005's The Family Stone, which happens to share the same producer (Michael London, shocker).
But back to the Coopers: Charlotte and Sam's kids are not much better off. Son Hank (Ed Helms) is coping with single parenthood, and daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is coping with being a disappointment as an unemployed playwright who flirts with the Army soldier (Jake Lacy) she meets an airport bar. (Their bantery scenes are the most enjoyable.) Meanwhile, Charlotte's younger sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) wallows in self-pity with the stone-faced officer who catches her shoplifting (Anthony Mackie), and their dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) befriends a doe-eyed waitress (Amanda Seyfried) who has nowhere else to go on Christmas, despite Bucky's odd attraction to her. (This borderline creepy storyline falls flatter than one of Charlotte's decorative placemats.)
But despite the blatantly bland cookie-cutterness of the film, there's something charming in the way director Jessie Nelson and writer Steven Rogers weave in flashbacks for each character. And that's where Coopers slightly stands out from the rest of the holiday-family fodder. It goes ahead and reminds us why holiday gatherings are so tricky, and it's often provided by an omniscient narrator (Steven Martin) and punctuated by a moody holiday soundtrack full of eclectic tunes. Forget the cutesy poster tagline "You can't regift family." The real message behind this cliche-riddled production is a commentary on nostalgia and how easy it is to fall into that memory trap whenever you come home to festive lights, a good meal, and individuals who love you unconditionally.
It's a shame the rest of the movie couldn't take on a more winking, irreverent tone and eventually ends up being the longest saccharine-filled Hallmark greeting card ever created.
RATING: 2.5/5 stars