Thursday, December 3, 2015

Love The Coopers

Premiered November 13, 2015.

It's Christmas time in Pittsburgh.

Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam Cooper (John Goodman) have been married for 40 years but they have grown apart and have decided to separate. They agree not to tell their family about this until after Christmas.

Their son Hank (Ed Helms) has recently lost his job as a portrait photographer and is having problems paying for Christmas gifts for his kids.  Hank is also coping with life as a single father and has a rocky relationship with his ex-wife Angie (Alex Borstein).

Charlotte's sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is Christmas shopping at a mall.  She feels she's always lived in the shadow of her big sister and resents this.  So Emma seeks a present of some sort that will impress her family.  Since she is short on cash, Emma steals a broach from a department store by putting it in her mouth and gets busted for shoplifting.  It looks like she may well be spending Christmas in jail.  She tries to convince Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie), who carts her away, to let her go free.

The Coopers' daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) has also flown in for Christmas, but doesn't want to face her parents alone.  She is currently in a relationship with a married man who is spending the holidays with his "real" family.  Eleanor decides to avoid parental disapproval by hanging out and drinking at the airport bar.  While avoiding going home at the bar, she meets Joe (Jake Lacy), a soldier who is shipping out to combat.  Joe and Eleanor are polar opposites politically and socially, but they find each other intriguing.  His flight is delayed by snow and it looks like he'll be spending Christmas at the airport.    On the spur of the moment,  Eleanor tells Joe he can spend Christmas with her family, if he will pretend to be her boyfriend.  Joe thinks this is a bad idea, but still goes along with the plan.

Meanwhile, Charlotte's father Bucky (Alan Arkin), a retired teacher, eats breakfast every day at a local diner.  This gives him a chance to spend time with a young waitress named Ruby (Amanda Seyfried).  He recommends classic movies to Ruby and they chat and discuss films together.

Ruby shocks Bucky when she announces she will be moving to Hot Coffee, Mississipi after Christmas.  Bucky thinks it's a terrible idea.

Will this multi-generational holiday get-together end in disaster?    Or will the Christmas Spirit get the better of the Cooper clan?

J.A. Morris says:

Love The Coopers features lots of characters and a whole bunch of plots and subplots.  It adds up to a mixed bag.

I've been a big fan of Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Alan Arkin for a long time.  They've done lots of great work over the years and sometimes elevated lesser films.

Their presence is the best thing in the movie.  Goodman and Keaton are believable as a couple that's been together for 40 years but (apparently) fallen out of love.  Steve Martin serves as narrator, which adds some gravitas to the film.

The Coopers' St. Bernard Rags is an entertaining "animal actor" and a welcome presence.

Rags begs for food from Aunt Fishy (June Squibb)
With so many characters, it's not surprising that some are underdeveloped.  Ruby seems to exist for little more reason than to give Bucky someone to admire.    The scenes that feature Emma with Officer Williams feel like they were phoned in from another movie.

The soundtrack of Love The Coopers is pretty good and makes the movie more enjoyable.  It contains lots of new and old recordings of Christmas songs, my favorite of the bunch being Otis Redding's "Merry Christmas Baby."  Sting's recording of "Soul Cake" is a nice surprise.  It also features three songs performed by Bob Dylan that have nothing to do with Christmas, but they're still great songs.

If you're a fan of Christmas movies and/or a fan of the actors featured, Love The Coopers is worth seeing.  But the lack of character development for half the cast makes it something that  .

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says:

This movie has a great cast, but unfortunately the material they are given to work with is just a bit too cliched to make it a great movie.  Not an un-watchable movie, but not a great one.

The many, many characters all feel believable, but each beat of the plot is something we've all seen dozens of times before.  Eleanor and Joe are polar opposites - he's a conservative Christian and she says the only god she believes in is the voice of Nina Simone.  They conspire to deceive her family and (SPOILER - but not a surprise) start to fall for each other in the process.  

Emma has an impromptu psychological session with Officer Williams as he's driving her to jail.  We learn that both of them have issues (surprise, surprise) and that they both are lonely during the holidays.  We get scenes with awkward teens, bickering exes, running gags involving a small child being rude, singing around a Christmas tree (more than once!).   It's like a checklist of holiday tropes, but because of the caliber of the actors involved the movie actually works better than perhaps it should.  The performances make you care about the characters.

Something that I enjoyed about the movie was the way that we see people's Christmas "ghosts", memories of the past that are briefly seen (or imagined) by the various characters throughout the film.  Christmas is most decidedly a holiday about nostalgia and memory and I thought the way the film handled these "Ghosts of Christmas Past" was cool.

To be fair,  a lot of Christmas movies rely on tropes.  Everyone can relate to family drama around the holidays.

Interestingly,  the "You can't regift a family" tagline on the poster (see above) leads one to think this is going to be more of a broadly comedic movie than it, in fact, is.  There is comedy, but it's gentle rather than broad and focused on interactions between the many characters.

If you love holiday films, Love The Coopers is worth seeing at least once, but I don't know that it absolutely needs to be seen on a big screen.    Maybe wait to catch it on cable or streaming next Christmas?

RigbyMel's rating:

2 candy canes

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