thu 20/06/2019

Christmas with the Coopers | reviews, news & interviews

Christmas with the Coopers

Christmas with the Coopers

Promising cast falls down a Yuletide black hole

The Coopers, heading for a variety of contrived outcomes

We can keep blaming Frank Capra for the lingering notion that Yuletide has magical powers which can turn Scrooges into yo-ho-hoing Santas and convert blood-spattered family feuds into tearful hug-ins by a roaring log fire. To prove it, this would-be seasonal sackful of joy from director Jessie Nelson doesn't shrink from quoting It's a Wonderful Life, both visually and verbally. It's more like an SOS than a homage, though.

Prematurely doomed by the concrete overcoat of Steven Rogers's screenplay ("I keep hearing myself trying so hard to be funny," says Olivia Wilde's Eleanor – a struggling playwright – and we can share her pain), Christmas with the Coopers has gathered up an impressive cast, then forced them to jump through every known cliche-hoop in Hollywood history. Sam and Charlotte Cooper (John Goodman and Diane Keaton) have been married 40 years, but they're about to get divorced. However, they're aiming to keep their sad news a secret until after they've enjoyed one last family Christmas.

But as they gather on Christmas Eve, their entire extended family are dealing with an assortment of crises. Son Hank (Ed Helms) has lost his job, having already separated from his wife. Charlotte's sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) seethes with resentment for her sister, and gets arrested for shoplifting while trying to decide what to buy her. Charlotte and Emma's dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) is a lonely widower trying to save depressed, self-harming waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, pictured above with Arkin). Eleanor's playwrighting efforts are going nowhere, like her futile relationship with a slimy married surgeon.

Any or all of this might have afforded space for some bittersweet humour and telling drama, but Rogers's script is a masterclass in tell-don't-show as it manipulates its way to a variety of contrived outcomes. When the actors should be acting, instead they're delivering static soliloquies about where it all went wrong and how did we end up here. Goodman's where-did-our-love-go lament to Keaton is a toe-curling case in point: "What happened to us? We used to slow-dance in the living room when the kids went to sleep..."

Equally likely to have you wriggling uncomfortably in your seat is Emma's handcuffed ride in the back of Officer Williams's patrol car. On a never-ending drive back to the police station, Emma convinces Williams (Anthony Mackie) that she's a psychiatrist, and sets about analysing his closeted gayness and inability to express his true self. Luckily it's Christmas, so Officer Williams doesn't do what most American cops would do and shoot her.

The one faintly bright spot is the relationship struck up by Eleanor and a soldier called Joe (Jake Lacy, pictured above with Olivia Wilde) who she meets at the snowbound local airport. Even though she's a liberal and he's a God-fearing Republican, he agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend for Christmas to keep her parents from prying into her love-life. You'll never guess how that ends.

You get the feeling the studio had some concerns about this movie, because every few minutes Rags, the loveable family dog, gets wheeled out for another cameo (scoffing the Christmas fayre, farting while Joe says grace or putting a paw over his face in entirely understandable embarrassment). He acts most of 'em off the screen. 

Overleaf: watch trailer for Christmas with the Coopers

When the actors should be acting, instead they're delivering static soliloquies about where it all went wrong and how did we end up here

rating

Editor Rating: 
1
Average: 1 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters