What a difference some punctuation would make to Love the Coopers. A comma would make it seem like the closing of a Christmas card (“Love, the Coopers“). Instead, the title becomes an order: you must love the Coopers. It’s easy to see why they’d demand it, though: there’s no other way for this family, which largely seems to loathe one another, to get any love.
Love the Coopers takes place on Christmas Eve, as Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) plan to welcome their family home for one final Christmas together. The reason? After years of growing distant, Charlotte and Sam are preparing to divorce. Other family members are arriving in town and killing time. Among them is daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who strikes up a conversation with a soldier named Joe (Jake Lacy) and reveals that she’s dreading another family event where she’ll disappoint her parents. Recently divorced son Hank (Ed Helms) takes the time to look for a job and worry about providing for his kids. Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), has a run-in with a closeted cop (Anthony Mackie). Charlotte’s father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), spends time at a diner where he’s struck up a friendship with a waitress (Amanda Seyfried), where he’s given some unexpected news.
In short, Love the Coopers is the latest in a line of films set at Christmas that want to take the tensions that can come from families coming together at the holidays and wring irreverent comedy from it, before wrapping things up with loads of sentimentality. The problem is that whatever comedy is present leans heavily on mean-spirited comments, especially early in the film. Considering that for the first two-thirds of the film, most of the larger characters are paired up with one other person, these scenes begin to wear quickly. As talented as the actors are, there isn’t a lot of chemistry between the characters to make the conversations (no matter how dark) work.
There is one exception: while the relationship struck up between Eleanor and Joe is as clunky and clichéd in its setup as the rest of the relationships, Wilde and Lacy are both charming and attractive, and there’s a sense of fun in their banter that makes their scenes far more interesting than they should be.
The film also suffers from heavy narration, courtesy of Steve Martin. At best, Martin’s narration provides an additional attempt at gentle comedy. More often, though, the narration interrupts the film’s attempts at creating emotional beats. That’s in keeping with the overall film, though. Love the Coopers isn’t destined to be a Christmas classic. It may, however, make some people reconsider going home for the holidays.