“Love the Coopers” is one of the most jumbled, tonally misguided holiday movies in recent memory. It is an insult to tidings of comfort as well as joy, and a complete waste of the time and talents of its ensemble cast. Seriously, Santa Claus himself would walk out of the theater, angry enough to wage his own war on Christmas.
There are a great many things wrong with this dysfunctional-family drama/rom-com, but the biggest issue is one it shares with “Love Actually,” “Valentine’s Day” and other holiday-focused ensemble pieces. “Love the Coopers” attempts to focus on too many characters, making it impossible to invest in any of their stories or, for that matter, to even figure out exactly how all of these people are related to one another.
Set on Christmas Eve and leading up to a family gathering, the film introduces us to Sam and Charlotte Cooper (John Goodman and Diane Keaton), a couple married for 40 years who are planning to separate after one last Christmas with their family. Predictably, this means they spend most of the movie arguing and asking, “What happened to us?” Their son Hank (Ed Helms), a recently divorced dad, is hiding the fact that he has lost his job as a photographer at Sears. (Hank snorts nervously a lot. This is supposed to be funny. It’s not.) Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who’s eventually revealed to be Hank’s unmarried sister, meets a handsome soldier named Joe (Jake Lacy) at the airport and persuades him to come home with her on Christmas Eve and pretend to be her boyfriend.
Meanwhile, the story follows several other characters: Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), who engages in an impromptu therapy session with an emotionally stunted cop (Anthony Mackie) after he arrests her for shoplifting; Charlotte’s father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), who’s obsessed with an insecure young waitress (Amanda Seyfried); and Aunt Fishy (June Squibb), who suffers from memory loss and incontinence. The only thing missing is a partridge in a pear tree with commitment issues.
So many things do not work, ring true or even make sense. Emma, for instance, is portrayed as slightly younger than Charlotte, even though Tomei is nearly 20 years younger than Keaton. Seyfried’s waitress isn’t the least bit creeped out by Bucky’s interest in her. And Steve Martin’s narration overexplains everyone’s internal monologue. I can only assume the actor was being held hostage in a voice-over studio.
Director Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam”) and screenwriter Steven Rogers (“P.S. I Love You”) pile on the flashbacks, dream sequences and other would-be whimsical flourishes. When Eleanor remembers seeing her fiance with another woman, for example, Martin’s narration informs us, “she was shattered” as her character literally breaks into shards of glass. That approach further muddles the whiplash-inducing narrative.
For a movie intended for families, “Love the Coopers” contains a lot of tasteless humor. The least uproarious running gag involves the youngest granddaughter’s tendency to call people — including her own grandparents — a crude word that rhymes with “stick.” There’s also a scene in which Hank’s son Charlie (Timothée Chalamet) sloppily tongue-kisses his new girlfriend in front of multiple generations of Coopers, while they sit in a hospital waiting room following a serious health scare. There’s so much tenderness in their eyes, it’s as if their hearts are growing three sizes every time he licks the poor girl’s face.
Even the most grating of holiday movies become almost tolerable when all the twinkling lights and snowflakes show up. But “Love the Coopers” is neither warm nor festive. In fact, the picture was so dark at a recent screening that I wondered whether something was wrong with the print. (A rep for CBS Films said that he was aware of no problems.)
By the time the credits roll, some audience members may be uttering a phrase that starts with the letter “F” — and I don’t mean “Fa la la la la.”
Chaney is a freelance writer.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains crude language, some sexuality and mature thematic material. 105 minutes.