"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that in a speech in 1940 as he praised the brave Royal Air Force pilots who fought off the German Luftwaffe and prevented a planned invasion. When I look at the cast of "Love the Coopers" (PG-13, 1:47), I see three Oscar winners, two Golden Globe winners and recipients of a variety of other awards. The film's screenwriter, Steven Rogers, wrote reasonably well-received movies like "Hope Floats", "Stepmom", "Kate and Leopold" and "P.S. I Love You" and director Jessie Nelson helmed "Stepmom", "The Story of Us" and "I Am Sam"). When I think of all the talent involved with "Love the Coopers" and compare it to the film's potential and overall quality, I'm inspired to alter Churchill's quote to fit this movie: "Never in the goal of human entertainment has so much talent given so many so little." The film is an ensemble comedy-drama which follows several members of the Cooper family on Christmas Eve as they prepare to have dinner at mom and dad's house. Mom and dad are Charlotte and Sam Cooper (Diane Keaton and John Goodman), a couple whose 40+ year marriage is ending, but who have decided to put on a brave face so they can have one last "perfect" family Christmas. One of their children is Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who still bears the emotional scars from the ending of her one great romance, but attempts to cover them up with sarcasm and self-pity. Sam and Charlotte's other child is Hank (Ed Helms), a man who has been unemployed for some time and has hidden that fact from his kids, horny teenager Charlie (Timothée Chalamet), caring and precocious Bo (Maxwell Simpkins), foul-mouthed Madison (Blake Baumgartner) and Charlie's estranged wife, Angie (Alex Borstein). Also planning on coming to the dinner are Charlotte's insecure younger sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), Charlotte and Emma's lonely father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), and Sam's forgetful Aunt Fishy (June Squibb).
Throughout the day leading up to Christmas Eve dinner, we see most of these characters sharing intimate details of their personal and family problems with total or near-total strangers. Sam and Charlotte argue over the correct lyrics while performing Christmas carols for a group of nursing home residents. In an airport bar, Eleanor strikes up a conversation with an Army Soldier named Joe (Jake Lacy) to whom she relates her deep-seated insecurities. Emma is caught trying to shoplift a Christmas gift for Charlotte and during the police car ride that followed, Emma tells the arresting officer, Percy Williams (Anthony Mackie) all about her tumultuous history with her sister, while getting him to open up about his very private personal secrets. Meanwhile, Bucky is doing what he does every day, eating at a diner he hates so he can chat with his favorite waitress, a lost soul named Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). And then there's Charlie who goes from being unable to talk with his teenage crush, Molly (Lauren Hesselberg), who's working in a local mall, to enthusiastically making out with her in about 5.3 seconds.
The characters in "Love the Coopers" are written, presented and portrayed as unlikeable and unrealistic. Besides the inexplicable scenes of most of the Coopers spilling their guts to people they hardly know or just met, their various predicaments are just plain ridiculous. It seems that the main reason Sam and Charlotte and splitting up is an argument over an oft-postponed dream trip to Africa. The very odd way that Emma tries to shoplift (or that a middle-aged woman does that to begin with) is made even odder by the many ridiculous lies that she tells security and then Officer Williams, with all of it played like its supposed to be cute. Eleanor and Joe are polar opposites as people and rudely disrespect each other's differences, but she invites him to spend Christmas Eve with her family. (And don't even get me started on Joe drinking while in uniform, wearing his collar up throughout the movie and the rank on his chest changing positions between shots in the same scene!) Bucky has a grandfatherly, but still very odd attachment to Ruby, even getting angry when he discovers that she has withheld important details about her life from him. And when Lauren starts enthusiastically but badly French-kissing Charlie in public places, what is apparently supposed to be funny is really just disgusting and off-putting.
The script and the movie in general are formulaic, but the filmmakers even got the formulas wrong. Much of the structure of this movie seems stolen from "A Christmas Story", complete with frequent narration, quirky characters and a scene of a little kid taking on a big bully. There are also moments that will remind many a Movie Fan of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and any number of other movies in which family members dread going to their family's holiday get-together but end up experiencing some personal and familial growth before the movie ends. Unfortunately, those elements that worked so well in some of those other movies simply don't work here – for the reasons that I've already discussed and because of a noticeable absence of genuine joy in almost every scene throughout the movie. Even the cast's frequent overacting doesn't help. As bad as the build-up was, I kept hoping that these stories would come together during the family's Christmas Eve gathering and produce resolution of conflicts and warm family moments. While the film makes attempts at some of that, the results feel as awkward as everything that led up to those scenes and aren't enjoyable to watch. "Love the Coopers"? Not even close. "D-"
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