“You can’t re-gift family” the one-sheet for “Love the Coopers” chirpily announces to anyone unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of it as they make their way to the box offices at their local theater. It’s the first red flag in a movie with more red flags than the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945.
It’s not so much a tagline as much as it is something you’d see silkscreened across the sweatshirt your aunt bought on sale at Hallmark. Which is an amazing coincidence because this is your aunt’s new favorite movie. And not the vaguely fun, cigarette-y aunt who will be found dead in the handicapped stall of the Borgata in Atlantic City. The aunt who owns a satin jacket for every Broadway musical she’s ever seen.
If you haven’t already noticed, there is no comma in between ‘love’ and ‘the’ in the title. “Love the Coopers” functions as a demand and a threat. “You will love the shrill, screeching neurotics that populate this grating movie,” it seems to shout. “You will make this disposable movie a holiday tradition,” it hectors. Not surprisingly, the performances match the desperate neediness of the title. With the exception of John Goodman (who appears to be having a very casual, totally chill stroke), everybody imbues their characters with a frantic, goggle-eyed intensity. Almost as if director Jessie Nelson watched that scene from “Boogie Nights” where a very broken, coked-out Heather Graham insists on calling an equally coked-out but far more broken Julianne Moore “Mom” and decided to base a feature length Hallmark-channel-ready dramedy around it.
Shot with the warm, fetishized hues rarely seen outside of an article in “Martha Stewart’s Living,” “Love the Coopers” is several hackneyed sitcom plots clanging against each other until it throws its hands in the air and closes with the revelation that God is a St. Bernard with the voice of Steve Martin and he’s very sad that Amanda Seyfried’s character doesn’t like being a waitress.
Throughout its running time waspy goings-on and petty problems are treated with a life or death urgency that requires every character to shout grandstanding speeches at each other in lieu of an actual, human conversation. Even though it’s Christmas, Diane Keaton and Goodman’s marriage is crumbling because they never bothered to vacation in Africa.
The golden days of bullying people into smiling at the Sears photo department are over for Ed Helms and it is completely devastating for some reason. Marisa Tomei tries to swallow a tacky brooch but a “gay robot” (Anthony Mackie) carts her off to a jail where Christmas can never happen. Olivia Wilde pretends to be engaged to that guy who played ‘New Jim’ on the last season of “The Office” because of her former fiancé’s promiscuous man lips. A little girl occasionally says the word ‘dick’ in front of Alan Arkin. An old lady farts and plays Twister.
If you’re worried that none of this is insufferably wacky enough, don’t worry, reaction shots of a dog burying its face in its paws or turning its head in a confused manner are inserted multiple times throughout the film to helpfully illustrate when it’s chuckle time. So, basically there’s a lot of dog reaction shots. In fact, 75 percent of “Love the Coopers” running time basically consists of dog reaction shots.
Of course, dog reaction shots are merely just the tip of the ice-turd. In a failed attempt to out-precious the comparatively less exasperating “Love, Actually”, “Love the Coopers” uses clips from old Chaplin movies, painfully literal magical realism (when Wilde is described as being “shattered” she literally turns to glass and shatters) and obvious cuts from the Bob Dylan songbook. “Love the Coopers” desperately wants to be loved. It wants to replace “A Christmas Story” in the hearts and minds of its audience with all of its might. It wants to speak to the human condition even though it seems to view humanity as no less complicated than the vision of humanity depicted in a Sundance catalog. Happy families may be all alike but the unhappy families depicted in any given Jessie Nelson movie (responsible for infecting the world with “The Story of Us” and “Stepmom”) are pretty interchangeable as well.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“Love the Coopers”
Starring: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms and Alan Arkin
Director: Jessie Nelson
Weekender Rating: V
Length: 1 hr 47 mins.