So I watched Love The Coopers…
I really haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit at all this year. It’s Christmas eve today and it literally feels like any other day of the year. I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that I haven’t watched any festive movies this December. This is the only ‘festive’ movie I’ve managed to see all December long and I wouldn’t even truly classify it as a Christmas movie.
Okay, basic plot: Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) Cooper are hosting their annual Christmas dinner for their family. The couple are getting a divorce after forty years of marriage and just want one more perfect Christmas. The rest of the family isn’t doing much better with their daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), picking up a random stranger to pretend to be her boyfriend to avoid her family’s judgement over her single lifestyle; while their son, Hank (Ed Helms), is also going through a divorce and is battling unemployment. With all these secrets adding further tension to the normal stress of family dinners, it seems that a perfect Christmas is not on the cards.
This film is muddled. It has a Love Actually/Valentines Day/New Years Eve style of storytelling where we’re introduced to a group of individual characters living their lives and at some point their lives intersect. This film doesn’t do a good enough job balancing the different characters’ individual stories. Certain stories feel unnecessary whilst others feel robbed of deserved screentime. There also isn’t a sense of smooth transition between the different stories. The move from one story to another is handled with the brutality of a meat cleaver instead of the fine finesse of a paintbrush. The stories don’t flow into each other but are rather forced together and this leads to an unbalanced, confusing narrative.
The lack of balance in the storytelling steals away from the power of this film’s impressive cast. No single actor is given the screentime needed for them to show what they’re truly capable of. There are glimpses – glimpses of comedic ability and emotional depth but nothing of true significance. The actors in this film do the best they can but it constantly feels like they have one hand tied behind their backs. There are flourishes of brilliance and I caught myself thinking (more than once) how much more entertaining this film would have been if it had dedicated more time to certain aspects of its story over others. The whole premise of this film is different members of a family coming to dinner and trying to pretend that their lives aren’t a mess. This film’s biggest problem is that the actual dinner comes far too late in the film and we’re shown far too much of the individual stories. This film needed the dinner to come in its second act instead of its third. This would have allowed for more focused storytelling and for things to come together sooner than they did.
This film feels like a poorly-constructed amalgamation of five different movies instead of five different viewpoints of one central story. Once again, this all could have been solved by the dinner coming sooner in the film because once the family is all in one place, that’s when it’s at its best. The juxtaposition of the traditional perfect idea of family at Christmas against the uncomfortable struggle it turns out to be is really entertaining to see. This movie needed to focus more on that instead of setting up its individual characters.
Love The Coopers doesn’t feel like a Christmas film to me. It isn’t festive enough, there isn’t enough cheer and Christmas feels like nothing more than a setting. When I think of the great holiday movies that I love, Christmas almost feels like a character instead of just a general setting during which the action takes place. There’s nothing really linking this film to Christmas and the events of the film feel like they could have taken place during any time of the year. Think of the first Lethal Weapon movie, it takes place during Christmas but Lethal Weapon is, by no stretch of the imagination, a Christmas movie. Setting a film during a certain time isn’t enough; you have to add other elements to truly sell it. This film also isn’t very funny but not because the jokes fall flat. There aren’t enough jokes in this film. It’s actually very serious and I don’t understand why. You have John Goodman, you have Ed Helms; these are funny guys, give them some material to work with.
Overall, I think this film just bites off more than it can chew. It’s muddled, lacking Christmas cheer and humour, so I guess that makes it a complete failure. It isn’t horrible to watch but I don’t think it understands what kind of film it’s supposed to be. I’d give it a miss. 5/10