LOVE THE COOPERS
* (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jessie Nelson
STARS Diane Keaton, John Goodman
Diane Keaton in Love the Coopers (Photo: CBS Films)
In a sense, the movie feels like the third chapter in that insipid series director Garry Marshall commenced with 2010's Valentine's Day and continued with 2011's New Year's Eve — just call this one Christmas Eve and be done with it. Shockingly, Marshall had nothing to do with this; instead, it turns out the picture is the bastard child of director Jessie Nelson, helmer of the shameless I Am Sam, and scripter Steven Rogers, writer of the desperate P.S. I Love You. But it follows the template of the Marshall twofer by following various insufferable dullards as they talk, bicker, laugh, bicker, cry, bicker, kiss, bicker, and then bicker some more. Most of the characters belong to the same family (the Coopers, obviously), with everyone planning to meet for dinner at the home of Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman). What no one in the family knows is that Charlotte and Sam are on the verge of getting a divorce because they were supposed to go on an African vacation 30 years ago and Charlotte has kept putting it off, angering Sam to no end. This trite storyline is arguably the film's worst — a real problem, since it's probably also the one that consumes the most time. And while their scenes do include the presence of the family pet, a gorgeous St. Bernard, he's only around to provide comical reaction shots (the surest sign of lazy filmmaking) and serve as the fall dog when an elderly character (June Squibb) breaks wind at the dinner table.
Meanwhile, on another page of the script, Charlotte's dad Bucky (Alan Arkin) has developed a close relationship with a troubled waitress named Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). The script hems and haws on whether the octogenarian's feelings toward the twentysomething are paternal or lustful — in an effort to make the whole situation less squirmy, the filmmakers opt to have Ruby visualize Bucky as a boyish young man (played by Sean McGee) when he delivers his declaration of love. Nope, doesn't help. It also doesn't help that Seyfried's character remains a cipher from beginning to fadeout.
John Goodman in Love the Coopers (Photo: CBS Films)
As family member Hank, Ed Helms stars in another subplot, this one piling on the loss of Hank's job, the fallout from his messy divorce, and the exploits of his three kids — the smallest being a cute girl who likes to say, "You're such a dick!" to everyone. I think the statute on the inherent humor in wee tykes employing cuss words ran out shortly after 1976's The Bad News Bears, but the filmmakers treat her outbursts with the same high regard the rest of us hold for Marx Brothers exchanges.
The final story strand involves Charlotte's emotionally sheltered daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) and her encounter at the airport with a young soldier named Joe (Jake Lacy). These scenes hold the most promise — and a few lines are admittedly pretty funny — but even this plot gets sabotaged by the decision to paint Eleanor as a liberal and Joe as a conservative in the broadest, most caricatured sense. She's an atheist who believes in global warming, sex without commitment, and evolution; he's a Christian who believes in gun rights, the sanctity of family, and the power of prayer. The moment when Joe asks the entire Cooper family to join him in prayer — only to be initially greeted with shocked and embarrassed looks — is the sort of kneejerk stereotyping one would expect to find in one of Rush Limbaugh's nonsensical books.
Nina Simone and Bob Dylan are name-dropped by characters simply so some of their tunes can be shoehorned onto the soundtrack — but hey, better them than, say, Justin Bieber and MAGIC! And the film also references classic movies, with clips from City Lights and Born Yesterday being shown and It's a Wonderful Life being discussed. Personally, I wouldn't have minded an additional film reference, with the Coopers' lovable St. Bernard going all Cujo and ripping asunder all these intolerable twits.