Love the Coopers? No, I most certainly do not. For that matter, what kind of movie instructs you to love its characters like that? My guess is either a very stupid one or a very desperate one. In this case, I’m inclined to suspect it’s both. This movie marks the return to directing of Jessie Nelson, who last directed a movie in 2001 — the almost equally sappy I Am Sam. With any luck, it’ll be another 14 years before she descends upon multiplexes again. In all fairness, Nelson did not write this curdled glop. No, that accolade goes to Steven Rogers, who had only been in hiding since 2007’s P.S. I Love You. After this, I’d suggest a witless protection program. If I have not made it clear, I disliked Love the Coopers intensely. We’re talking upper-tier Ten-Worst-of-the-Year dislike here.
Ten years ago I gave a positive — if not over-the-moon — review to The Family Stone, another Christmas offering with a name cast also headed by Diane Keaton. It was a pleasant little movie with similar intentions. But, let me tell you, it was the Citizen Kane of dysfunctional family Christmas movies by comparison. Love the Coopers is the sort of movie that might make you want to reassess Christmas with the Kranks (2004) and Deck the Halls (2006) … No, that goes too far, but you get the idea. This is the cinematic equivalent of being deluged with fruitcake batter while an Osmond Family Christmas record plays on an endless loop.
It is a thankless task to try to outline the plot of Love the Coopers — not in the least because there’s so damn much of it — but none of it matters except to put all these “lovable” and “kooky” bozos under one roof for Christmas dinner. Mostly, these various plots are designed to convey how everybody got so messed up — and everyone means not only the Coopers and their various relatives, but just about everyone else in the world of the movie. For instance, Amanda Seyfried’s character is only involved because Alan Arkin — he’s somebody’s grandfather — has been seeing her daily at the diner where she works. This is about to come to an end because she’s miserable (even suicidal) and has decided to start over again in the locale of Hot Coffee, Miss., (probably proving that the writer has seen The Boys in the Band or read the play). Through a series of contrivances, she ends up going to the family dinner. It’s that sort of thing. Similarly the cop (Anthony Mackie), who arrests Marisa Tomei (supposedly Keaton’s only-slightly younger sister) for shoplifting and apparently drives her all over Pittsburgh in search of the police station, turns out to be a bitter, closeted gay, and … never mind. At least the cop doesn’t go to dinner.
There’s also trouble between Keaton and John Goodman — and a positively brain-dead sub-plot involving Olivia Wilde as the secular humanist, liberal daughter who takes up with right-wing Christian soldier Jake Lacy so she has a date for dinner. (And, yes, they fall in love. I give this relationship three weeks, tops.) There’s more — including June Squibb as dotty “Aunt Fishy” — but you aren’t likely to care much. However, the zither that cooks the goose — or turkey, as the case may be — is that the whole damn story is told by the family dog (given voice by Steve Martin). This is one remarkable beast, since he can recount events at which he was clearly not present — not that this incredible ability keeps him from doing “cute” doggie things like wolfing down an untended pot of mashed potatoes. Yes, it’s fully as dumb as it sounds. Maybe dumber.
If there is anything worthwhile in this outburst of tinsel-covered seasonal effluvia, it has to be the clips from City Lights (1931) and Born Yesterday (1950) that it unwisely includes. Why make your bad movie look even worse by reminding the viewer of better things to watch? I’m not four-square against Christmas movies — though I question the need for them before Thanksgiving. I own Holiday Inn (1942), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), A Christmas Carol (1951), About a Boy (2002), Love Actually (2003) and several others. I am, however, dead-set against this cup of Christmas dreariness. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality.