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Love the Coopers
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Loathe Actually"
1 stars

We all know that the so-called "war on Christmas" that is breathlessly announced around this time every year is nothing more than an ongoing scam perpetuated by craven news networks hoping for boosts in their ratings and opportunistic politicians looking for additional support in the polls from thin-skinned types who are convinced that we will all be swallowed in the flames of Hell if the greeter at Wal-Mart has the audacity to wish "Happy Holidays" to the customers. That said, if someone did want to try to make a case for the legitimacy for such nonsense, they would not have to go much further than to point to the existence of "Love The Coopers," a Yuletide-themed comedy-drama that is so rank, so ugly and so completely lacking in even the most basic elements of entertainment that it is enough to make one simply want to close up shop right now and not emerge for anything until mid-January in order to give it the widest berth imaginable.

The last few years have seen a mini-trend in Christmas-themed films featuring large casts of recognizable faces often playing members of a quirkily dysfunctional family who eventually come together to laugh, cry and come to terms with things, oftentimes while wearing spectacularly ugly sweaters. These films (if you don't quite recall any of the titles at this point, I won't be the monster to remind you of their existence) are generally quite horrible but from a purely mercenary perspective, one can understand why they are usually able to attract a decent array of talent--they don't exactly require a huge effort from a performance perspective, the multiple storylines mean that they can probably get most of their stuff shot in a couple of weeks and if they achieve even a moderate amount of popularity, the endless TV broadcasts during the last couple of months of each successive year will reliably bring in more than a few bucks in residuals. In this case, the end results are so mortifyingly awful that even they may be too embarrassed to endorse the checks and thereby publicly admit that they had anything to do with it.

Set in Pittsburgh, the film follows several generations of the Cooper family as they gather to celebrate the holidays at the home of Sam and Charlotte (John Goodman and Diane Keaton). Alas, things have not been good between the two of them for a while and after some nonsense involving a long-deferred trip to Africa, they have decided to divorce after 40 years of marriage. This, of course, inspires another fight since Sam wants to just come out and admit it to everyone then and there while Charlotte is maniacally dedicated to having the perfect Christmas and wants to put off announcing it until after the holidays. Emma (Marisa Tomei), Charlotte's sister, lives in perpetual resentment of her older and more seemingly perfect sibling and decides to manifest her feelings by shoplifting a Christmas present for her, a plan that immediately lands her in the back seat of a squad car driven by the multiple token Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie). Their dad, Bucky (Alan Arkin), is currently despondent because Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), the diner waitress that he is oddly infatuated with, is leaving town to make a new life for herself in Hot Coffee, Alabama--this might sound creepy in theory but it does make some sense because, as anyone who has ever seen a W.C. Fields movie can attest, a good waitress is hard to find and when you do come across one, you want to hang on to her like grim death. Sam's Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) is suffering from dementia but don't worry, it is the fun movie kind of dementia where people say silly things for most of the running time and then come up with profound words of wisdom at just the right time.

As it turns out, the younger generations have plenty of angst to bring to the proceedings as well. Recently divorced son Hank (Ed Helms) has just lost his job as a department store family photographer but is pretending that he is still employed while desperately trying to find any work at all. Daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is an embittered playwright who had her first taste of success at age 19 but whose life since then has been a litany of professional disappointments and personal relationships that are doomed to disaster from the beginning. While hanging out at the airport to work up the nerve to go home to what she is sure will be the disappointing looks of everyone else, she meets Joe (Jake Lacy), a soldier set to ship out the next day, and even though they are total opposites--she is all dark and moody and cynical while he is--gasp--a Republican who believes in God and stuff--she hits upon the brilliant idea of bringing him home to dinner and passing him off as her boyfriend. Hanks also has three kids of his with their own quirks--an older son who just wants to sloppily make out with his would-be girlfriend, an adorable little girl who loves to say "You are such a dick!" to everyone and a middle son whose sole distinguishing attribute now eludes me.

In other words, "Love the Coopers" sounds like a week's worth of holiday movies that were rejected by the Hallmark Channel and jammed into a duck press. Unfortunately, it also plays exactly like a collection of scenarios deemed unsuitable for a cable that no sane person has ever voluntarily asked to be included in their broadcast package. Even those who have cheerfully endured the likes of "Christmas with the Kranks" and "Four Christmases" may find themselves appalled by the depths that this one sinks to right from the get-go and from which it never comes close to emerging. The screenplay by Steven Rogers is so hacky, both comedically and dramatically, that it seems more like the work of a screenwriting student who gets it back from the teacher with a "See Me" note written on it in bright red.

The various conflicts are as contrived as can be, the resolutions are equally unbelievable and there is not a single recognizable emotion that it generates outside of snide disgust. There is not a single character in the film that you would want to spend five minutes standing in line behind them to get coffee, let alone observe for nearly two hours as they arrive at their half-assed epiphanies. The dialogue is especially terrible--all the comedic lines sound as if they came directly from an exceptionally terrible sitcom and all the dramatic lines sound like a Very Special Episode of that same sitcom. (Eleanor's anti-Republican gibes are so clunky that it is perhaps the only blessed relief in this whole sorry enterprise that we never see any examples of her vaunted playwriting abilities.) Oh yeah, the whole thing is narrated by a mysterious character (voiced by Steve Martin in the tones of someone who is either a very good friend or who had a wager go sour) and when you discover at the end who it is, there is an excellent chance that you will want to punch the person nearest to you out of sheer annoyance over the revelation.

As you can tell, there are a lot of good actors in "Love The Coopers"--if not necessarily good judges of material--but with the possible exception of Alan Arkin, who makes the best of an exceptionally bad hand, all of the performances run the gamut from the instantly forgettable to the uniquely awful. Falling squarely into the later category is Diane Keaton, turning in yet another one of the screechy, mannered performances that have come to dominate the latter portion of her career--was "Something's Gotta Give" really the last time that she played a character that you did not want to immediately chop up with a machete and then dissolve in a bathtub full of acid. (This may sound overly cruel but you sit through the likes of "Because I Said So," "The Big Wedding," "And So It Goes" and this and then tell me how much you want to live afterwards.) Even a performer as innately likable as Marisa Tomei has clearly been struck dumb by the material and cannot begin to make anything out of it. As for the others, they mostly coast through with the tiniest amount of effort imaginable in the hopes that their participation will quickly be forgotten.

"Love The Coopers"--as ironic of a title as one could possibly imagine--is a film that is as bad as one could possibly imagine and then some. "How bad is it?," you may ask. It is so bad that the only difference between it and a lump of coal in a stocking is that the coal at least has some intrinsic value and usefulness to it. It is so bad that one searching for holiday viewing for the entire family would be better served with a "Silent Night, Deadly Night" marathon than this one. It is so bad that "The Family Stone" is now only the second-worst holiday-themed film in Diane Keaton's oeuvre. I could go on but, unlike this craptacular, I know when to quit when I am behind.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28131&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/12/15 16:18:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2015 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/07/16 Dr. Lao A heartwarming comedy that isn't funny...or heartwarming 1 stars
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  13-Nov-2015 (PG-13)
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