In trying to describe the story of Christmas with the Coopers, it perfectly sums up the film’s biggest problem; there’s just too much going on.
Set on Christmas Eve, we’re introduced to the various members of the Cooper family who are all due to converge on one home, for dinner together – each with their own baggage and stories.
At the head of the family are Sam and Charlotte, who are on the brink of breaking up after forty-years of being together. Their children are the newly divorced Hank, whose recently lost his job, and the single Eleanor, who is so desperate to not to be judged by her mother, that she convinces a complete stranger to pretend he’s her boyfriend for the night.
Meanwhile, you have Grandpa Cooper who has formed a relationship with a young waitress at a coffee shop; the bitter Auntie Emma who is caught shoplifting a present; a seniel Aunt Fishy, and two young brothers who feel distant since their parent’s divorce.
Oh, and all of these stories are narrated by the family’s pet dog, which sounds an awful lot like Steve Martin.
For the majority of the film, we cut in and out of the multiple storylines of the many characters; some of which are better than others. Whilst there’s a wonderful pace to the first half, which has some excellent editing and a great directorial style, Christmas with the Coopers feels largely inconsistent and all over the place.
There’ll be storylines that you prefer to others, which are given more screen time than they deserve. It takes far too long in getting to the main event, which is seeing the family together and watching the sparks fly.
When the film does finally get around to that, it shines bright; largely due to the wonderful performances from its ensemble cast that includes John Goodman, Diane Keaton, June Squibb, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei and Olivia Wilde – all of whom carry the film with their likeabillity and charm.
What’s surprising about Christmas with the Coopers, is that it is a mostly melancholic and miserable affair. It deals with sibling jealously, loneliness, failing relationships, divorce and death. But while it may not always be as jovial as the festive genre dictates, it’s refreshing honesty about family and Christmas is one of its best achievements.
Steve Rogers’ script might be messy, but there are some flashes of brilliance within it. There’s a fantastic little moment between Goodman and Keaton, who may be coming to the end of thier relationship. The pair duet on a Christmas carol, and desperately try to remain in tune and in time with each other. It’s a small moment, but a great piece of writing on Rogers’ part.
Christmas with the Coopers does lose its bottle by the end however, as the usual Christmas messages about family shine through the arguments and the darkness. Part of me wishes it would have had the strength of its own convictions to stray from the schmaltz, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t swept up in it by the end.
Christmas with the Coopers is far from a Christmas classic, but there’s some fun to be had with it as well. It may be a bit sloppy and tonally confused, but as far as films of its kind go, I’ve seen a lot worse.
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