“I have a fear that I’m an impostor.”
I’m an easy sucker for Christmas movies, the good and the bad, and it’s my favorite time of the year because of the spirit and the sentiment. Heck, my Type A side even leads to scheduling holiday-centric films to watch immediately post-Thanksgiving up until Christmas night. By all accounts, in a universe that aligns, I should have enjoyed Love the Coopers. But I couldn’t, can’t, and won’t ever be able to recommend this movie to a single soul, let alone cringe my way through it once more. Christmas movies may be clichéd and repetitive and ostentatious, all qualities that must exist while having a heart at its center for us to both cheer for and make us feel cheery ourselves. This is the kind of story you’d expect to be lived by the fake families beaming in the discounted picture frames that you regift to people who you don’t care about enough to put much thought towards. Do a white elephant exchange with the Coopers at your next Christmas party and you’ll enter into a perpetual state of trade, because nobody wants to love them.
Abiding by this subgenre’s typical curse of death, Love the Coopers relies on narrowly defined stereotypes for its characters to strictly live by in order for us to quickly judge them. That works – briefly – before the people become linear and unsubstantial. We have seen this story before and will see it again until the end of cinema, but to continue to write such structurally poor and one-note shadows is inexcusable as well as laughable. Give these people some shared traits; they’re family after all. Really, the characters, who should be the livelihood of this and any movie, end up being the undoing. Two unhappy parents (Diane Keaton playing the ghost of her The Family Stone past and a terribly miscast John Goodman) want to assemble their colorful and dysfunctional family for one last trip down memory lane before they reveal their divorce after forty years of marriage. Love the Coopers has absolutely no character balance, juggling bowling pins here and feathers elsewhere, unwilling to put in any effort to trim its waistline for a proper fit. It’s certainly snug, but without any comfort.
What’s most upsetting is watching this talented and incredibly deep cast be let down time and time again by a truly awful script and completely unguided direction. Seriously, Love the Coopers has some of the worst camera work I have seen in years, and as Jessie Nelson’s third overall feature, and her first in 14 years, she proves the saying that practice makes perfect to be true by appearing incompetent. The script by Steven Rogers, an apparent master of self-ordained plucky melodrama, has no tone and allows zero chemistry between the cast. It’s never very funny, occasionally a little crude, and constantly over-steps its boundaries looking for affirmations without the relatability to connect to the audience. Love the Coopers goes under your feet rather than over your head not because it is smarter than you are, but because it suffers from a rarely matched level of stupidity.
Throughout we witness daydreams and memories making their way into the story we’re watching, and the script is so lazy that it never justifies their presence. Every character, including a mall cop with one minute screentime, gets a narrated background. People in real life all have a story deserved of being heard but in cinema that’s not necessarily the case. Nelson’s film also has an unexpected mean streak to it that felt unique and odd. Jokes about a loony Aunt, a toddler who says “You’re such a dick,” and a woman with a rented boyfriend, as true to the genre as any aspect. We expect a klutzy yet tidy movie and only get the former, bidding us zero tidings and inflicting such horrible lines as, “I don’t understand how we’re going to have Christmas without mashed potatoes.” Some people may like this and that is their prerogative. And if so, make sure you’re not like the little boy in this popular Youtube video, conditioned to say thank you and smile when face to face with a total letdown. Adore this family if you must. Still, be aware that you’re dreaming of better things, compensating for the coal right under your nose. But hey, at least its surprise twist…SPOILER ALERT…is that it’s narrated by the only intelligent character: the family dog. Love the Coopers comes to us as unwrapped kindling, thrown in the fireplace, blocking any sense of a gift-giving and jolly attitude from making its way under the stockings hung with little to no care.
“Sometimes I think I might be unlovable.”
Rating: 0.5 out of 5