With a 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 that hard to make a pleasant if forgettable Christmas movie. But even with such a talented ensemble, Love The Coopers’ convoluted narrative and overreliance on Christmas clichés keeps it from sparking any real holiday magic.
Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman) head up the Cooper clan, and despite their insistence on one last perfect Christmas with their family, they’re on the brink of divorce, having drifted apart after 40 years of marriage. Helms stars as their son Hank, who, after recently separating from his wife, has not only lost his job as a photographer but now has to raise his three children on his own. His sister Eleanor (Wilde) is a failed playwright, and she’d rather kill time in the airport bar than spend an extra minute with her judgmental family.
These narratives weave together over the course of Christmas Eve, with divergent stories focusing on characters like Charlotte’s sister (Tomei), who spends her Christmas in the back of a squad car after shoplifting a brooch. Her arrest turns into a makeshift therapy session with the officer (Mackie), who’s struggling with his closeted homosexuality. Charlotte’s father (Arkin) also strikes up a relationship with a young, down-on-her-luck waitress (Seyfried) at the diner he frequents, and while it’s (uncomfortably) unclear whether his feelings toward her are fatherly or romantic, Arkin and Seyfried try their best to keep it from being too creepy.
The most engaging story goes to Eleanor, and after she starts up a conversation with a deploying soldier (Lacy) who’s stranded at the airport, she invites him to pose as her boyfriend and accompany her to Christmas dinner, hoping to silence her overbearing parents. Wilde and Lacy’s chemistry keep their burgeoning relationship believable, even as they struggle with lazy clichés: He’s a good Christian and a Republican, she only believes in “the sound of Nina Simone’s voice.”
Instead of letting the movie’s more emotional moments breathe, overly explanatory narration by Steve Martin interrupts any moments of tenderness. And while it’s billed as a comedy drama, there aren’t many laughs. The two biggest running gags — that Hank’s daughter (Blake Baumgartner) won’t stop calling people a d— and his teenage son (Timothée Chalamet) won’t stop sloppily making out with his girlfriend — weren’t that funny the first time. Better to stick to the Christmas classics. C