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Movie Review: 'Meet the Coopers'

The depressing dysfunctionality of Love the Coopers grates early and often.

Review by Matt Cummings

The dysfunctional family holiday film is a genre I just can't like, no matter what you do with it. Ever since it arrived in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, I've been hesitant to accept its amalgam cast of unlikable characters, thinly-written plots, and sickeningly quick happy endings. But the newest addition - Love the Coopers - sets new lows, quickly running aground with one of the most misused casts of the year.

Told through the eyes of four generations, Love the Coopers stars Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Marisa Tomei, Alan Arkin, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, and June Squibb as thoroughly screwed up people trying to gather one last time for the holidays before the parents Goodman and Keaton announce their divorce. The sisters hate one another, the Grandfather (Alan Arkin) tries to connect with a secret (and much younger) love who eventually goes to someone else (Amanda Seyfried), and everyone generally doesn't get why everyone dislikes everyone else. As the family comes together, controversy isn't far behind, until one of them ends up in the hospital, forcing the rest to remember that their love for another is the tie that binds them.

Love the Coopers is directed by Jesse Nelson, who make no comfort or joy in telling this depressing tale of people living thoroughly depressing lives. Seriously, from the start there's nothing happy about this gathering, and soon it begins to grate, forcing humor/sadness/romanticism/humor down our throats in servings as big as the fake dinner Keaton supposedly puts together in seemingly record time. Usually, movies like these feature some amount of hysterical zaniness, but Nelson just can't force that out of Writer Steven Rogers' screenplay. We get the hyper-involved Christmas-singing parents, siblings who try to one-up each other, and unrequited love that soars as much as a toilet.

Few feel suited for their role, including non-Cooper thespians Anthony Mackie and the aforementioned Seyfried. One drives a police car through the entire film while the other considers moving her considerable waitressing acumen to Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Yep, she really wants to move there, as if Pittsburgh just doesn't hold the appeal like Hot Coffee. The closeted Mackie gets psychoanalyzed by Tomei (a life coach with a penchant for lying to police) around after she's caught trying to steal an over-priced broach for her sister. None of that is especially appealing or even any good, and we're left wondering why that aspect was left in the film. Add to that the repartee by Keaton and Goodman, who spend so long breaking down why their marriage no longer works that soon we're hoping they just get it over with.

The only bright spot is Wilde, whose mischievous hottness smolders each time she and Joe (Jake Lacy) go at it. But that spryness is meant for another film, because once Eleanor gets home, she fades into the milieu of family politics, hastened by odd softening filters on Keaton's face each time she's the center of attention. In the days of analog, such things never bothered me; but in 1080p-land the difference is noticeable, especially in the hospital scenes near film's end. Helms' story - he's also getting a divorce - is meant to be a sort of breakout dramatic role for him; but here he's just a lifeless caricature whose odd snorts (no, I'm not kidding) weren't funny from the beginning and don't get any better as time goes on.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of Love the Coopers is that the grittiness of a post-2007 economic collapse has somehow made its way into the dysfunctional holiday comedy. Everyone is sad and upset at something - usually for no real reason other than they choose to be - ready to go postal if the right three things go out of order. Not only are we forced to endure such a gross over-exaggeration, but are meant to draw some odd appreciation that our lives somehow mirror The Coopers' sorrows. And all of that is also meant to be funny?

There are several flashback moments that are well-conceived and shot, and the narration by Steve Martin presents an interesting reveal, but the film's masochism just can't be tolerated. I feel like Scrooge in destroying Love the Coopers, but it appears the grittiness of modern action cinema has also found its way into the dysfunctional holiday comedy. Find a way - any way - to skip this family disaster entirely.

Love the Coopers is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality and has a runtime of 107 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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