Title: Christmas With The Coopers
Director: Jessie Nelson
Major Players: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Marisa Tomei, Alan Arkin
Out Of Five: 2
When a film has your name on it, you feel obliged to rock up, if only for moral support. And if I think of a better reason for seeing Christmas With The Coopers, I’ll let you know.
I also have the sneaky feeling that the distributors know this is going to be the first seasonal turkey of the year: they’ve released it well before the holiday so that it sinks without trace as quickly as possible, but it’s also opening on a Tuesday so that it can at least pull in a few bob at the box office in its opening week. One that almost pales into insignificance after last week, which offered Carol, Black Mass, The Good Dinosaur and Doctor Zhivago. The omens aren’t good.
So this first cinematic offering of the season does what it says on the tin – takes a look at the Cooper family at Christmas. All four generations of them. There’s Mum Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Dad Sam (John Goodman), who’ve been together for forty years – a lot of family Christmases – and the spark’s gone from their marriage. They’ve decided to separate – but not until after Christmas, which means they have to keep it from the family, who’ve converged on their home for the holiday. No pressure, then. Then there’s the rest of the clan. Daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), for example, who’s still single and arrives accompanied by a total stranger Joe (Jake Lacy), pretending he’s her fiancé. There’s their newly divorced son Hank (Ed Helms) who’s failing left, right and centre to find another job to pay the alimony, and Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), who’s been pulled for shoplifting. And so it goes on ……
So it’s yet another of those comedies with an all-star cast that tries terribly hard to be funny and fails, isn’t it? Yes, but it gets worse. The fact that it doesn’t raise much more than the occasional giggle is just the start of the slide downhill. It opens with footage of the mass manufacture of chocolate and other Christmas treats, all very sweet and artificial. And for a moment you’re lulled into thinking it’s going to have something to say about the commercialisation of Christmas. But that moment is soon over.
Any theme it attempts to introduce has about as much substance as a snowflake. And, just in case we haven’t worked out the film’s very obvious message – buried among all those characters – Alan Arkin proclaims it loud and clear. What makes you happy is right under your nose! Just focus on the positives! We’d never have guessed ……. If you happen to be Keaton and Goodman in a perfect house with all the idyllic snow outside, never-ending Christmas lights insight, as well as a hot and cold running buffet that would have meant Keaton slaving in the kitchen for weeks – then, yes, Arkin is probably right. But it does give the film an unpleasantly smug tone.
Thankfully, there is a saving grace – two, actually, in the shapes of Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy, who manage to inject some real heart and chemistry into the whole shaggy mess. You genuinely buy them as a couple, romantic clichés and all – yes, they suffer from them as well, but they manage to carry them off in style.
Did I say shaggy? Well a family is never complete without a dog – and a dog with character, of course. This one is called Rags. There’s a narrator at the start of the film and it’s only in the latter stages that it becomes clear that we’re listening to the voice of Rags. He might sound familiar and that’s because he’s voiced by Steve Martin. But it’s a ludicrous idea. How can a dog, who is permanently at home and hardly ever takes any exercise, know all the stories associated with the characters?
It all ends happily – that’s no spoiler. You can see it coming a mile off. But not only is it superficial, leaden and hardly worth more than a titter or two, it’s also remarkably sterile – quite an achievement with such a big cast – so you don’t get the heart-warming feeling at the end that the director clearly intended.
If I were related to the Coopers, I’d suggest they go away for Christmas next year. No! Scratch that. The last thing we need is a sequel …….
Christmas With The Coopers is released nationwide on Tuesday, 1 December and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 3 December.