Imagine a movie imitating a Garry Marshall movie imitating a Richard Curtis movie, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Love the Coopers feels like. This is the sort of holiday picture that has become particularly fashionable in the 21st century: take a bunch of recognizable faces, give them all some cutesy subplots (some comedic, some dramatic, most at least partially romantic), tie those subplots together with a big red bow and send everybody home with a big smile on their face. Most of these movies are modeled on Curtis' Love, Actually, a shamelessly sentimental piece of seasonal sugar that nonetheless contains enough entertaining performances and genuinely funny writing to function as an indulgent entertainment. Love the Coopers is every bit as saccharine as that film, but nowhere near as much fun.
Admittedly, this film's structure is a bit more unique than that of something like Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve. The many members of the Cooper family (and some various +1s) are planning to get together for the holidays, so we watch a lot of little mini-stories unfold as the assorted family members attempt to make their way to the home of patriarch Sam Cooper (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) and his wife Charlotte (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall). Eventually, everyone arrives, and the whole thing suddenly transforms into a real ensemble movie. Let's take a look at our characters...
- Emma Cooper (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler), Charlotte's little sister. Just before she reaches her destination, Emma gets arrested for shoplifting. She attempts to get out of the situation by sweet-talking the cop (Anthony Mackie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) who arrested her, but quickly learns that the cop is a closeted gay man. Pivoting, Emma attempts to get out of the situation by turning into an amateur therapist. Perhaps due to time constraints, this complicated relationship moves way too quickly: one minute Mackie is telling Tomei to sit still and be quiet, and the next minute he's telling her personal things he's never told anyone.
- Bucky (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine), Charlotte's father. He's a devoted cinephile who has made a hobby of loaning his favorite old movies to a young waitress named Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, Chloe) who works at his favorite local diner. It just so happens that he's also nursing a crush of sorts on Ruby, which isn't a great idea given that he's old enough to be her grandfather. When Bucky learns that Ruby is planning to leave town, he's forced to figure how – or if – he should reveal his feelings to her. Things remain platonic enough to keep the whole thing from getting too creepy, but the relationship suffers from the film's insistence on drawing a direct parallel to the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in City Lights.
- Hank (Ed Helms, The Office), Sam and Charlotte's son. He's a mall photographer who has been on an unsuccessful quest for a new job, and his family life has been similarly frustrating: his relationship with his wife Angie (Alex Borstein, Family Guy) is in shambles, and he can't seem to effectively deal with the behavior of his moody teenage son (who spends most of his time sulking until he meets a teenage girl who's eager to make out with him) or his precocious young daughter (who has recently developed a bad habit of shouting “You're such a dick!” at people).
- Eleanor (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy), Sam and Charlotte's daughter. She's trying to catch a flight back home, but is forced to mill around in the airport when her flight is delayed. During this time, she meets Joe (Jake Lacey, Carol), a good-natured military man. The two hit it off until Eleanor discovers that Joe is (gasp!) a Republican. From here, the relationship turns into an eyeroll-inducing series of “opposites attract” cliches, as the two parties bicker about various subjects (war, marriage, evolution, etc.) until they inevitably begin to start lusting after each other. Yawn.
- Aunt Fishy (June Squibb, Nebraska), a colorful old woman who turns up every so often to inject some particularly ridiculous “comic relief” into the proceedings. The film's assorted Aunt Fishy gags offer a pretty good indicator of the film's level of comic sophistication. In one scene, she eats a gingerbread house sitting in a mall display case. In another, she farts in the middle of a family prayer and blames it on the dog. A worst-case-scenario example of mainstream cinema's much-too-popular “Old People Are Adorable” mentality.
Meanwhile, Sam and Charlotte spend most of their time bickering with each other until everyone finally shows up at their place. Despite the film's painful first hour, I had hopes that things might improve once these fine actors got to start playing with each other. Unfortunately, the film become even drearier in its third act, as the little tension that has been building fizzles and the film drifts into aimless sentiment and a painfully half-hearted dance party.
The film was directed by Jessie Nelson, whose previous credit was the painfully awful I Am Sam. This film isn't that bad – few things are – but it has the same tendency to push way too hard in every single area. The only aspect of the film that proves genuinely enjoyable is the soundtrack, which offers a pleasant collection of tunes from Otis Redding, Fleet Foxes, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and other top-shelf artists. I wish I could be as positive about Steve Martin's narration, which only serves to hammer home things that the film has already made abundantly clear. Just when you think the narration can't possibly get any more insufferable, you learn narrator's true identity. Woof.
Love the Coopers
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Year: 2015