Review by Rhianna
My second Christmas film of the year, with a decent, ensemble cast, something to look forward to, right? I had high hopes for a really jolly, festive, feel good comedy and actually I spent most of the film on the verge of tears. The pressures of Christmas is not an uncommon theme – It’s A Wonderful Life anybody? – but in this, we follow the multiple strands of different family members reuniting on Christmas Eve.
The parents, played by the perpetually flustered Diane Keaton and the sorrowful John Goodman almost break your heart as a couple on the verge of separating after 40 years together. Their son is faring no better, in the midst of a divorce himself, unemployed and unable to tell anyone and is played with an appalling mediocrity by Ed Helms. Someone thought it would be a great idea to give him a tick so whenever he gets anxious, his lines are often followed by a contrived, pig-like snort. So far, so depressing, so thank God then for their daughter, who is dreading telling them that she is once more, single at Christmas (apart from the married man she’s sleeping with) so brings home a soldier she’s met at the airport, camouflage and all.
Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies, Tron) thrives in a naturalistic environment which is why her storyline, although farfetched, seems to be the most believable. Her slightly desperate need to please her parents, who we know love her unconditionally, rings true, as does her witty repartee with affable stranger Joe (Jake Lacy). She’s an atheist, a pacifist and a Democrat, very appealing to a British audience, and isn’t afraid to rip into his views. My kind of woman.
It’s disappointing that the family doesn’t get together until quite a massive chunk of the film has gone past because who doesn’t love a healthy dose of dysfunction? Time is spent instead on the gentle, festive meandering of the Coopers, including Alan Arkin (who once played John Goodman’s colleague in Argo and is now his father-in-law because none of the ages make sense in this film) whose kindly grandpa is in love with a girl in her 20s, which is less creepy than it sounds, they are two kindred spirits romanticising their odd friendship because of their loneliness.
The trouble with Christmas with the Coopers is that there are too many storylines to keep a handle on and not enough depth in any of them; it throws up way more questions than it answers and puts a real downer on Christmas. It’s not the feel-good Christmassy movie that you might be hoping for, neither has it fallen into the awful ensemble trap that is Valentine’s Day because it actually has some heart in there and gets under the skin of what it’s like to have to sit on your frustrations with the people you should love most. Unfortunately, Steve Martin as the voice of the dog who doubles as the narrator feels like that last chocolate liqueur on Christmas day, a great idea until you actually eat it and feel sick.