Love the Coopers spans across the multiple stories of the Cooper family as they trek home for their annual Christmas gathering. But with each family member dealing with their own personal crisis, the dinner table becomes a battlefield of secrets, grudges and arguments that all come to a climax before the main meal is even served. Directed by Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam), this star-studded dramedy falls just short of being a yuletide classic but is enough to put you in the festive mood.
After deciding to separate, Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton) decides to throw one last perfect Christmas dinner as a family, much to the chagrin of her husband, Sam (John Goodman). As the Cooper clan all begin making their homeward bound journeys, each seems to find themselves caught in a moment of crises: their son, Hank (Ed Helms), is jobless and in the middle of a divorce; daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) employs the help of a soldier (Jake Lacy) about to ship out to pose as her boyfriend; resentful sister Emma (Marissa Tomei) gets caught shoplifting for presents; and father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), finds out the waitress (Amanda Seyfried) he dotes on is moving across the country.
The film’s struggle is that is wants to be the light-hearted Christmas comedy while also attempting to realistically delve into the darker depths of personal drama. There are some good laughs, but the most interesting moments come when the actors get to actually explore their character beyond what amounts to almost slapstick type humor. The alone moments of every character allow a window into each that seems to get lost when the family comes together, and the personal moments, such as when Keaton and Goodman’s characters discuss their marriage, seem vastly superior and more entertaining than the standard ruined dinner saga.
The film also isn’t helped by the vast array of characters that aren’t all serviced equally. Very much reminiscent of Love Actually, we find each character dealing with various personal issues that seem to have all been boiling away and are finally coming to a head at Christmas dinner. But while some, like Keaton (The Family Stone) and Goodman (The Monuments Men), are given actual problems to work through, others like Helms (Vacation) and Tomei (Crazy, Stupid, Love) are left with fairly superficial issues blown into overly dramatised complications. To make matters worse, a lot of the solutions to these problems lie in rather convenient or simple remedies, and in some cases it’s just a matter of characters simply choosing not to repeat behaviours.
One of the more interesting characters is Eleanor, who Wilde (Rush) plays with such enthusiasm that she’s a clear standout. Goodman and Keaton both bring a nice rapport, with the latter’s frantic nature complimenting the former’s more placid personality nicely. It’s Arkin (Argo) though that is truly the rock of the film, and seems to anchor every other actor with his mere presence. June Squibb (Nebraska) also makes an appearance as Aunt Fishy, although is relegated to a few quips throughout and the film rather wastes her talents.
In the very least, Love the Coopers is a sweet film that most families can sit down and watch together in the build up of Christmas madness, or for those missing their standard dose of dysfunctional family dinners.