Love the Coopers features no fewer than six dog reaction shots. Has a successful comedy ever contained this distraction and desperate plea for a chuckle, “awww,” or both? It’s really just the beginning of the problems for this confused, temperamental, and mostly miserable film. Love the Coopers is as much a comedy as a Christmas movie, in that it’s neither and more a drama taking place around Christmas that eeks out a few sporadic laughs. Director Jessie Nelson and screenwriter Steven Rogers criminally waste a stacked and talented cast in a story that contains no focus, purpose, or surprises.
Taking place on Christmas Eve, the story revolves around various members of the Cooper clan leading up to the big family dinner. We have Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman), who are planning to get divorced. Hank (Helms) is recently unemployed and desperate to find a job before the new year. Eleanor (Wilde) is stuck at the airport and befriends Joe (Lacy). The two hit it off and Eleanor formulates a plan to present Joe as her boyfriend to appease Charlotte. Emma (Tomei) is busted trying to shoplift a broach at a department store and strikes up an unlikely friendship with the arresting officer, Percy (Anthony Mackie). And Bucky (Alan Arkin), the patriarch of the family, is bummed because his favorite waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), is about to leave the local diner. There are various other subplots involving first kisses, infidelity, and the aforementioned dog.
Of all the film’s issues, tone is the largest. Shifting violently from drama to comedy to straight up bizarre, Love the Coopers never establishes firm footing. There’s an air of desperation throughout as strange visual effects are utilized for no apparent reason and screaming matches are passed off as comedy. It feels like Nelson and Rogers are trying to ground a stand-up comedian’s exaggerated version of a family Christmas. They really want these people to feel authentic, but it never gels. The most well-drawn character is Wilde’s Eleanor, a liberal free spirit to Joe’s more conservative soldier. They form the best chemistry even though there’s never a shred of doubt that they’ll end up together. A few late developments are positively absurd, particularly a sequence involving an adulterous doctor. Talk about the least sly person ever.
It’s difficult to blame the cast. The majority do fine with the hand they’ve been dealt, which isn’t a good one. Given how large the audience is for warm, good-hearted, holiday-themed films, it’s amazing how seldom they come along. On the surface it doesn’t seem that tough; give us some nice people in a just-enough-stakes plot with a happy ending. Surround it with snow and decorations. The marketing would lead you to believe Love the Coopers is that kind of film. It’s not, and it was doomed early on at the screenwriting stage.
Studio: CBS Films
Length: 106 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality.
Theatrical Release: November 13, 2015
Directed by: Jessie Nelson
Written by: Steven Rogers
Cast: John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacy