LOVE THE COOPERS Movie Review – Too Soon, Too Soon
Families. You don’t choose them. They choose you. And there’s nothing you can say or do to change that simple, life-altering fact. To put it a different way, “Families, they f*ck you up” (a phrase, it should be noted, borrowed from a 24-year-old issue of a late, lamented literary journal, Granta). Families mess with your head, sure, but permanent long-lasting damage, emotional wounds and scars? Apparently, those don’t exist in the sitcom-light world of director Jessie Nelson’s (I Am Sam, The Story of Us, Stepmom) Love the Coopers, a way too soon, holiday-centered comedy-drama (Christmas is still six weeks away), where each character faces a personal and/or professional crisis of one kind or another, but nothing so heavy or intractable that a little conversation, a few predictable revelations, and a heartfelt hug or two, not to mention the talismanic invocation of the word “family” countless times, can’t fix before the credits roll on Love the Coopers overstuffed running and the identity of one of the most annoying verbose offscreen narrators in recent memory (voiced by Steve Martin) reveals his “true,” fantastical identity (no, he’s not a It’s A Wonderful Life-inspired angel, he’s something far, far worse).
Love the Coopers interweaves not one, not two, not … where were we? Love the Coopers interweaves a tangle, sprawling mess of storylines and/or subplots involving the titular clan, as Anglo and Saxon as you could possibly get — with the exception of Academy Award winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Bucky, the clan’s über-patriarch, a retired something or other who spends a good part of his day frequenting a local diner to share time and space with Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), a slightly bewildered, twenty-something waitress trying to figure out why she loves spending so much of her time with a retired octogenarian. Their relationship may extend beyond the professional and into the personal, but given their sixty degrees (or rather years) of separation, it’s purely or mostly platonic (take whatever pick seems less objectionable, offensive, or unwholesome). We’re expected to see Bucky and Ruby as kindred spirits, but it’s not a spoiler to say whatever feelings they may or may not have for each other will remain unconsummated (or should). Bucky feels deeply, utterly betrayed, however, when Ruby reveals she’s departing her dead-end life as a waitress for parts relatively unknown, a town she picked haphazardly on a map. And on Christmas Eve, no less.
Bucky and Ruby’s relationship, however, is just one tiny shard, a fragment in the Cooper’s family overarching story that centers — for better or worse (often the latter) — on the strained, soon-to-end-in-divorce marriage between Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman). The love and/or romance in their marriage ended eons ago apparently, but Charlotte wants one more, one last Christmas get-together with her family, a family that includes Bucky, her father, Emma (Marisa Tomei), her younger, semi-screwed-up sister, and her children, Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde). Hank has three children of his own, Charlie (Timothée Chalamet), Bo (Maxwell Simkins), and Madison (Blake Baumgartner), a failed marriage of his own, and one day job necessary to get his children their Christmas presents of choice (rent, food, etc., are apparently a lesser concern). Eleanor sees herself as a professional failure, a once promising playwright stuck in neutral. Tired of disappointing her parents, she picks up a conservative-leaning American serviceman, Joe (Jake Lacy), on his way to an overseas deployment, at an airport bar.
Emma gets stuck giving advice to the cold, sullen, by-the-good-book cop, officer Williams (Anthony Mackie), while he takes the slowest, non-scenic route from a local shopping mall (where he arrested her for shoplifting) to the police station (where she’ll be booked and jailed for said crime against humanity). Eventually, the subplots and storylines converge at the Cooper household on Christmas Eve, with predictably manipulative, saccharine sentimentality to round out the stilted, pro-family message typical of formulaic, template-driven holiday films. Love the Coopers contains a pro-tolerance message too, mostly of the progressives should tolerate reactionaries kind (Eleanor repeatedly mocks Joe’s presumed religious and political beliefs) while Joe’s innate good nature helps him see past Eleanor’s noxious beliefs to the beautiful, blue-eyed brunette sitting across from him at the airport bar, on the train ride to the Cooper stronghold, and at the family dinner, leaving moviegoers to glean a third message from Love the Coopers: There’s nothing, not even diametrically opposed political worldviews, that physical attraction can’t overcome. If that’s not a perfect holiday message, it’s hard to know what is.