Love the Coopers

LOVE THE COOPERS. Starring: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, and Alan Arkin. Directed by Jessie Nelson. Rated PG (Mild themes, sexual references and coarse language). 117 min.

This American comedy-drama is being marketed as the feel-good movie for the current Christmas season. It has a star-studded cast and tells the tale of four generations of extended family members, who come together to celebrate Christmas.

The movie quickly establishes the expectation that members of the Cooper family are going to have to repair a lot of problems or tensions in their relationships that have been building up over time. Much of the movie is spent staging the problems that Christmas is expected to solve. Not surprisingly, things don't go entirely according to plan.

Charlotte (Diane Keaton) is the matriarch of the clan. Her marriage to her husband, Sam (John Goodman), is faltering badly, and she doesn't really want to repair it. Sam is not so sure. He wants to escape to Africa to have a better time. He could be cajoled into rekindling his 40-year old marriage to Charlotte, but he thinks that she is not at all interested in him trying to make the effort. They have decided that this will be their last Christmas together.

Charlotte just wants a perfect Christmas day of "togetherness" for her family, but the unfolding of events make that well nigh impossible. Her daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) brings a stranger along with her to the family gathering - she met him at the airport and she has asked him to pretend to be her friend. Charlotte's sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), is emotionally fragile after being caught shoplifting. Charlotte's son, Hank (Ed Helms) is a single, jobless father, who is trying to cope with divorce, and has difficult children to contend with. Charlotte's father (Alan Arkin) is spending a lot of time with a waitress (Amanda Seyfried) 52 years younger than he is, and he has brought her along to the family gathering to be with him.

Not everyone knows everyone else at the gathering, and Eleanor's pick-up causes unexpected relationship issues of his own kind, that solves some of the conflicts for a mixed-up Eleanor.

On many fronts, members and associates of the Cooper family are a dysfunctional lot. Although things don't turn out all that well in the final run, the family unit is in better shape at the end of the Christmas gathering than it was at the start. Things become less dysfunctional as the movie develops. The film comes to a conclusion that recognises the necessity for some good Christmas cheer, but the dramatic development of the characters along the way is a messy one.

Diane Keaton and John Goodman are polished and experienced actors, who handle the comedy aspects of their situations with reasonable ease, but the cast as a whole is burdened by the heaviness of the film's plot and the movie is weighed down additionally with scripting that tends to sap genuine spontaneity and vitality from its characters. There are moments of happiness and fun (like three Santa Clauses riding the same railway carriage), but the direction of the movie for the most part looks forced and tired. Good comedy, positive character development, and human drama sit beside each other tentatively and nervously for much of the time. Solutions happen, but they happen sentimentally, not realistically or plausibly.

This is a film that offers only a modicum of good Christmas cheer. The cast is impressive and has three Oscar winners in it from past movies (Diane Keaton, Alan Arkin, and Marisa Tomei). With such people, and given the presence of other acting luminaries like John Goodman trying to deliver their best, this is a movie that should have been much better than it is. Clumsily directed, the movie contains too many characters, trying to sort out excessively complicated lives, in too short a time,

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released November 26th., 2015

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