By: Kevin Jordan
Merry effing Christmas (or, a real sausage fest).
Do you love ensemble movies featuring fourteen different main characters and six stories? Do you love Christmas movies? Do you love the thought of attending the annual family Christmas gathering with people you don’t particularly like, but suck it up because you share a few chromosomes with them? If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then have I got the movie for you – Love the Coopers. Also, when are you due back at the ward?
The difference between Love the Coopers and other, similar movies (like Love Actually) is that pretty much every character in Love the Coopers is a dick. Hey – don’t get mad at me, I’m just repeating what Madison, one of the characters in the movie, says. She may only be six years old, but she’s just telling it like it is. Let’s go meet these dicks, er, characters, and hear their stories.
First up is Bucky Cooper (Alan Arkin). He frequents a local diner every day for one reason – Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). Yes, I said Amanda Seyfried, and I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. Okay, it’s kind of like that, but it’s much more innocent than a dirty old man stalking a beautiful young woman. Bucky just misses his dead wife and Ruby reminds her of him. They joke about the quality of the food, he suggests movies for Ruby to watch, and they have a good time together. They are two of the nice people in the film, though they do share a moment where they are dicks to each other.
Next up is Hank Cooper (Ed Helms). He is divorced with three kids, Charlie, Bo, and Madison (Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins, and Blake Baumgartner, respectively). He and his ex-wife, Angie (Alex Borstein), hate each other and he is trying to get a new job, but is lying to Angie about still having one. They are serious dicks to each other, though most of the blame lies on Angie since she is a dick all of the time and Hank is only a dick when Angie brings it out of him.
This leads us to Hank’s kids. Madison spends time with her grandparents, Hank’s parents, Sam and Charlotte. You know her story already – she owns the catch phrase of the film. On the other hand, Charlie and Bo are hanging out the mall. Bo is looking for the perfect gift for Charlie while Charlie is trying to flirt with his crush, Lauren. Surprisingly, none of these kids are dicks, which is a nice change for a movie involving teenagers. In fact, they provide the best part of the movie – a French kissing scene between Charlie and Lauren in which they manage to not touch lips. Imagine the way two golden retrievers would look if they were making out and you’ve got the idea.
Coincidentally, Emma Cooper (Marisa Tomei) is also at the mall, but not for very long. She has serious issues with Charlotte (her sister), shoplifting, and lying and spends most of the movie in the back of Officer Percy Williams’ (Anthony Mackie) police car. In an attempt to not go to jail, Emma decides to use her social worker skills to provide Percy some therapy to help him come to grips with his lack of emotions (due to an abusive mother). On one hand, I feel bad for Percy because he has to sit and listen to Emma dole out unsolicited advice, but on the other hand – where the hell is the police station? They drive around for hours, so either he’s lost or he really hates his mom.
Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are a whole different story. Charlotte is a Cooper by birth (Bucky’s daughter) and is the mother-in-law (or mother) that every stereotype was born from. Everything is always about her, which drives her two kids – Hank and Eleanor – crazy. Be it Hank’s inability to keep a wife or job or Eleanor’s affair with a married man, Charlotte always wants to know “was it something I did?” After forty years of marriage, a continuing, unhealthy obsession with her kids, and an untold number of broken promises (including a 35-year delayed trip to Africa), Sam is at the end of his rope. He doesn’t want to give up, but Charlotte devoted everything to her kids and Sam waited decades for her to devote some time to him. It’s tough to blame a guy for wanting to have a little happiness before he dies after forty years of being little more than a prop. And, you would want to leave too if your wife (or husband) insisted on elaborate Christmas gatherings including forcing everyone to say what they are thankful for around the dinner table and sing Christmas carols in the living room as a group. Dicks like Charlotte are a special breed.
Finally, we have Eleanor Cooper (Olivia Wilde). She is hanging around the airport after having arrived in town, stalling as much as she can before heading to the big gathering, when she meets Joe (Jake Lacy). The two of them are as opposite of each other as two people can be, but they are easily the most interesting people in the movie. They are also the obvious love story of the film, but what makes them interesting is that they are caricatures of the two sides of our political system. Eleanor is an insufferable, liberal democrat who feels the need to lecture Joe about everything he’s “wrong” about. Joe is a religious, conservative republican who looks down his nose at Eleanor’s beliefs and judges her on everything. Also, he’s an Army soldier, just to complete the stereotype. Joe’s flight is cancelled (which is why they’re both still in the airport) and after several cutesy moments and misunderstandings, Emma convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend and accompany her to the family gathering. These two people are not good humans, but they are entertaining. They also provide the best exchange I’ve heard in a long time:
Eleanor – “You probably don’t even believe in evolution.”
Joe – “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
Eleanor – “That’s funny; my dog asked me the same thing about wolves.”
I sincerely hope I get to use that last retort in real life because it (and the French kiss scene) made this entire movie worth watching.
By the time the movie gets to the big Christmas dinner, you will be so thoroughly depressed (or disgusted) at either the characters or their lives that you won’t really care if they forgive each other by the end of the film. This, in a nutshell, is why the vast majority of critics did not like this movie. There’s no plot to speak of; just a bunch of related people winding their depressing stories toward the inevitable dinner explosion between some, if not all, of them. And, despite all of that, I found myself not hating this movie. As much as I didn’t care about any story save Joe and Eleanor, I never once thought I should get up and leave the theater. Maybe that’s the real power of Christmas – it allows you to see the entertainment value in the numerous dicks in life, rather than just getting angry about them. You’re looking forward to Christmas dinner now, aren’t you?
Rating: That sloppy kiss and evolution quote are worth the price of admission…if the price of admission was half of what it is today.