Love the Coopers

Love the Coopers

(PG) Starring Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde

Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton) merely wants to get her family together for Christmas. This is an annual event that may be familiar to many people for bringing with it both joy and trepidation to all involved. Her husband, Sam (John Goodman), is finding it difficult to go along with the celebration, because things are not going well on the home front or in their lives of their children. This twisted comedic tale from director Jessie Nelson (I am Sam) attempts to connect all of the family member’s lives together by providing a glimpse into each of them, as well as the impact they have had on each other throughout the years. Every stereotype of family life seems to have been included,  from the unemployed divorcee to the kleptomaniac spinster, the senile aunt to the high-flying writer — as well as their extended family and friends.

Love the Coopers has the feel of a group therapy session for all who have to go home for Christmas. Most modern families are somehow represented by the various members of the Cooper clan. And they all have a part to play here, except for the character played by Anthony Mackie (The Avengers: Age of Ultron). He becomes the unnecessary politically correct add-on and brings nothing to move the story along.

Most of Love the Coopers seems to have been done before in other Christmas-themed films. All these parts have been seen in other stories and the comedy is exceptionally predictable. Unfortunately, even Keaton has become a cliche. What happened to the actress of Annie Hall and Reds? The vast majority of her recent roles have been “neurotic matriarch that is trying to get her family together”. Yes, Keaton is a quality actress and does fill these shoes well, but roles like Charlotte have become so familiar that she does seem to be going through the motions.

As you can gather, this is not a perfect film — but there is something to like about the Coopers story. Within the unoriginal nature of the script, there are flashes of reality that would even pull at Scrooge’s heart strings. These flashes are like coming home for Christmas dinner — while most of it won’t be a surprise, there is always a small bombshell that makes the visit worth the trip.

In true Hollywood form, the family situations on the screen are over the top but, at the heart of this homecoming, there is something that connects with us all. Nelson’s handling of each character provides something for those who find it difficult to face their own family when life is a struggle. Each personality represents a specific part of the familial experience, so will connect with different audience members. But three characters are stand outs, played well by John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Jake Lacy. These men represent each generation of the Cooper clan and become the anchors for the rest of their family members. They become the voices of reason that are willing to take an unapologetic stand for their stances on life and family.

Love the Coopers initially comes off as a film that should cause us to groan out loud because of its lack of originality and its saccharine-sweet answers to life’s problems. But, despite all that, it does illicit laughs and tears instead. Was it a great Christmas film? Not really, but in this cinematic era dominated by dystopian apocalyptic and science fiction, it is a point of difference.

It was refreshing to be entertained by a a straightforward family comedy. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Some of the bigger considerations and questions from this film

Do we take our families for granted?

Unfortunately, in some modern parenting philosophies, the goal can be to shield children from the realities of life and it becomes easy to minimise the value of family. As opposed to seeing that life involves suffering but family can be the salve that soothes the pain of life. The application process may sting a bit at first, but the family can bring comfort throughout all of life’s experiences.

Today is a good day to look around and be thankful for the families we have been given.

  1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)
  2. What is the value of family? (John 15:12-17, Ephesians 5: 21)
  3. How should we respond to suffering? (Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 5:10)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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