— -- Starring Alan Arkin, Marissa Tomei, and Diane Keaton
Three out of five stars
You may fall in like -- not love -- with parts of this uneven romantic holiday comedy.
It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve had a big, splashy Christmas movie about a dysfunctional family who hates getting together for the holidays, but in the end realizes family is the most important thing in the world. In "Love the Coopers," we don’t have an instant Christmas classic, but it’s hardly a lump of coal.
The first thing you can’t help but notice is the massive, fantastic ensemble cast: three Oscar-winners in Alan Arkin, Marissa Tomei, and Diane Keaton; Oscar nominee June Squibb; Golden Globe winner John Goodman; Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie, Alex Borstein. That’s an embarrassment of riches, and doesn’t even take into account Steve Martin as the narrator.
So how is this film not an automatic home run? Let’s examine.
"Love the Coopers" keeps its ensemble in pairs for most of the movie. Goodman and Keaton -- the Coopers at the center of it all -- are a couple barely keeping it together after 40 years of marriage. Seyfried and Arkin play a waitress and customer who share a strong bond. Tomei gets arrested by Mackie for shoplifting, and Wilde and Jake Lacy are strangers who meet at an airport bar.
If the movie centered only on Wilde and Lacy, with everyone else in the background, you’d have the best romantic comedy of the year. He’s a new military recruit about to ship out but stuck at the airport on Christmas Eve, while she just landed but is killing time at the airport bar rather than go home to yet again disappoint her parents. Wilde and Lacy have fantastic chemistry, and director Jessie Nelson knows it, as evidenced by her really long, really tight close-ups of Wilde’s stunning face. This couple has the best lines, best banter, and best story of any of the film’s couples, thought Seyfried and Arkin run a close second.
That latter story should be one of the movie’s creepier aspects –- it’s basically a love story between 81-year-old Arkin and 29-year-old Seyfried, but it’s very sweetly handled. Their story, and also the Wilde/Lacy storyline, demonstrates writer Steven Rogers really shines in exploring the space of two people who are connecting, but haven’t yet coupled.
Unfortunately, we also have to spend time checking in on the other couples, and they’re just downers. Keaton and Goodman are locked in this space where their characters have said they’re going to break up but it’s never really clear why, other than the fact they’ve grown apart. And sure, that may be reason enough after 40 years of marriage, but it’s not much fun to watch. And the storyline between Tomei and Mackie is just a waste of two fantastic actors. She’s a jealous, needy con artist whose character is undeveloped, while he’s a robotic cop with a secret who has so little to do, the role could have been played by anyone. Their parts could have (and should have) been edited out of the movie altogether.
By the way, if you’re as confused by the title as I was, you’ll learn from watching the film that it should actually be “Love, the Coopers.” As in that’s how they sign a Christmas card. But since it’s missing the comma, “Love the Coopers” is really more of a demand. One I won’t give in to.
I like the Coopers. Some of them, I like a lot. Two teens kissing in the film should definitely win Best Kiss at next year’s MTV Movie Awards, and I could watch Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy flirt all day. I hope someone sees this and makes that movie. But I don’t love the Coopers. Ultimately there’s enough good here to balance out the uneven, so "Love the Coopers" ends up being enjoyable enough. Kind of like getting a cheap sweater for Christmas -– it’s warm and fuzzy and feels good at first, but then you notice some hanging strings. And when you pull them, the sleeve falls off.