CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS (USA/12A/107mins)
Directed by Jessie Nelson. Starring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms. Marisa Tomei, Anthony Mackie.
THE PLOT: On Christmas Eve, the Cooper family prepare to spend the holidays together. The trouble is that each of them is lying in their own way; Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are disguising the fact they are about to separate after 40 years of marriage, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) brings home a stranger she meets in an airport to pretend to be her boyfriend, and waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) has not told her favourite customer Bucky (Alan Arkin) that she is moving away from Pittsburgh for good.
THE VERDICT: ‘Christmas With the Coopers’ sounds like a great idea for a movie on paper; as a family prepare to come together for the holidays, they try to present the best versions of themselves, while their secrets come to light and bring the family closer together. On screen, however, only some of these intertwining stories actually work, and the choice to have a mysterious voice narrate the entire film is a strange one.
It is fair to say that all of the cast of the film – Maria Tomei, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Diane Keaton – do well with what they are given. That said, it is also fair to say that many of the actors, given the ensemble nature of the film, are not given very much to work with at all. Olivia Wilde comes off perhaps best, with her story being engaging ad revealing, with Wilde lighting up the screen every time she appears.
Steven Rogers’ screenplay tries to unravel the mystery of why families resent coming together for the end of the year celebrations, and why they feel the need to lie to one another, but there is simply too much going on. A clearer focus on perhaps four of the stories would have made a stronger film, especially if there was a focus given to the couples pretending to be together for the sake of their families.
Director Jessie Nelson has experience with Christmas movies, having written the Vince Vaughn holiday comedy ‘Fred Claus’, but he has an uneven hand in ‘Christmas with the Coopers’. Some of the stories are more fleshed out than others, leaving the ignored to feel surplus to requirement. There are a couple of giggles to be had throughout the film, but the comedy simply is not there, and the entire film feels rather familiar, like we have been here before.
In all, there are good things within ‘Christmas with the Cooper’s, but an uneven hand, choppy editing and too many stories turns this from an examination of a family at Christmas to a rather messy ensemble piece that tries a little too hard to be heart warming. Still, it’s a step up from a lot of the cornier Christmas movies out there.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Christmas with the Coopers
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Tries too hard
  • filmbuff2011

    Known under the less seasonal title of Love The Coopers in its native country, Christmas With The Coopers is one of those daft but warmly enjoyable American family comedies set around (almost) everyone’s favourite time of the year. It’s an ensemble piece, charting one hectic Christmas Eve for the Cooper family. There’s Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman), who are giving serious consideration to divorcing after 40 years of marriage. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is caught shoplifting and is taken in by Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie), who she describes as being a ‘robot’. Charlotte’s father Bucky (Alan Arkin) is hurt that his friendship with forlorn waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfriend) is ending as she moves on. Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is trying to live with being a single dad, while also looking for work. Finally, there’s the other child: Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), a writer who can’t seem to settle down – or maybe she just doesn’t want to. That’s where friendly soldier Joe (Jake Lacy) comes in, so they pretend that he’s her boyfriend… Christmas With The Coopers comes from the makers of the Christmas-set The Family Stone, which also featured Keaton. It has that same familiar feel to it – squabbling siblings, awkward family dinners, dysfunctional families forgetting the true meaning of Christmas and then coming to realise that they all really just love each other. So, nothing new here. There are perhaps too many baubles in the air here – for an ensemble piece with a starry cast, it’s packed with incident, coincidence and a firm sense of whimsy. Some of the storylines are stronger (e.g. Eleanor and Joe) than the others, which suffer as a result of being underwritten. Also, what’s with the storyline involving Emma and the cop? He should be taking her to a police station, but they just drive around for hours… That’s a fairly noticeable plot hole. Yet despite all these flaws, there’s something so irresistibly likeable about the whole film that only a Scrooge could dislike it. Most of the characters are well-drawn and move beyond sketchily-drawn templates. A quality cast raise the bar a little bit higher, so that it feels better than it should – Keaton and Wilde are the standouts. A drily funny and atypical narration from a laid-back Steve Martin is a plus too. Director Jessie Nelson’s first film since I Am Sam in 2001 is definitely flawed. However, there’s a good chance you’ll come out grinning and feeling warm and fuzzy. ***

  • emerb

    Jessie Nelson directs holiday family reunion movie “Christmas With The Coopers”. This comedy-drama takes place over the Christmas holidays and explores the depressions, traumas, failures and secrets of a large upper middle class family that do not get along but are forced to come together for their annual Christmas Eve dinner with their feuding parents. As expected, it turns out to be a night of turmoil and revelations.

    Charlotte (Diane Keaton) heads the dysfunctional Cooper family with her husband Sam (John Goodman) and their marriage is on the rocks. Having drifted apart after 40 years, they are getting a divorce but want to postpone this in order to fake one last perfect Christmas for their imperfect clan. Olivia Wilde is Eleanor, their cynical, guarded and opinionated eldest daughter. She is a struggling progressive playwright and she dreads heading home as she’s convinced her overbearing parents will be judgemental of her life and disappointed that she’s still single. After striking up a conversation with a conservative Christian
    soldier Joe (Jack Lacy) who’s stranded at the airport, she gets the bright idea to invite him to pose as her boyfriend and accompany her to Christmas dinner, hoping to silence her overbearing parents. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s brother Hank (Ed Helms) is struggling. Not only has he lost his job working as a department store portrait photographer but, after recently separating from his wife, he finds he has to raise his precocious children on his own. Then there is Charlotte’s dad, Bucky (Alan Arkin), the wise great-grandfather who bonds with the lonely, depressive cafe waitress (Amanda Seyfried) who serves him in a diner. Emma (Marisa Tomei) is Keaton’s neurotic and resentfully single sister who spends much of her route to dinner in the back of a police car after she’s caught for shoplifting and ends up having an unexpectedly frank conversation with the cop (Anthony Mackie) who arrests her. Batty old Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) has a mild case of dementia but that just makes her sweet and happy.

    With a star studded and talented ensemble cast including Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, June Squibb, Anthony Mackie, Olivia Wilde, and Jake Lacy, it shouldn’t be hard to make a pleasant if rather forgettable Christmas movie but not all the mini plots work. For me the standout was Olivia Wilde, her character feels the most relatable and human. Her pretend relationship with Lacy and their chemistry keeps their story engaging. Helms is rather annoying as the affectless, underemployed dad, but I’ve never been much of a fan of him anyway.

    “Christmas With The Coopers” is a rather formulaic modern family Christmas movie with an aggressively unhappy family at the core. We have a big, starry cast who assemble in their picture-perfect mansion to fight, laugh, cry and ultimately realise something profound about the meaning of life, love, loyalty and family during the season of giving. We are treated to many predictable scenes of quarreling, recriminations and sharp-edged analysis of each other. Yet it’s hard not to like it.
    The film isn’t trying to be high art and in a way, the predictability can be enjoyable and comforting. The script, written by Stephen Rogers, is smart and funny about the unreasonable expectations of family gatherings which is often glossed over in favour of happiness and joviality in many Christmas movies. Nelson gives us much enjoyment in the charming banter and some of the smaller moments. I loved the wonderful throwback soundtrack which is peppered with lively tunes from Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Otis Redding. However, it has
    to be said that not everything works. Some of the plot threads feel disjointed
    and there are too far many characters with too many stories – at times it feels like characters and stories were introduced just for the sake of it. On balance, with all its flaws, I think that ” Christmas With The Coopers ” does come together in the end and makes for an entertaining evening of festive entertainment.