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You’re going to watch this film. One day. One Stephen’s Day, probably on RTE2 at 7pm. When you and your family are beginning to doze off from turkey sandwiches, it will come on and someone will say ‘Oh Diane Keaton, I like her’ and then for 2 hours it’ll drift by inoffensively in front of your eyes. It won’t be good enough to remember, but it will never be bad enough to turn off. So, think of this less as a review, and more of me prepping you for that inevitable moment.
Christmas with the Coopers taps into one of the big Christmas hangups – the feeling that you’re not the person your family wanted you to be, and not even the person you once wanted to be. It intercuts 5 stories of the Cooper family as they come together for dinner on Christmas Eve. Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are the Cooper parents, looking to cherish one last family Christmas before they separate, neither one being able to see any trace of the exciting and vibrant person they first fell in love with. Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is their daughter, who waits at the airport bar to drink with a stranger rather than face her parents disappointment in her singledom. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), desperate to prove she’s on a par with her rich sister, shoplifts a last minute gift and is swiftly caught by security. Her father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), has been sorta falling in love with a very young waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), and is shattered when he discovers she’s moving state. His grandson, Hank (Ed Helms), is an embattled single father who’s just been fired and is struggling to find the money to make it through Christmas.
These character gripes were easy to write out because each of the character tells you, repeatedly, what their central conflict is. There’s no real urgency in the plot, so they all get a lot of time to sit around and offload about their anxieties ahead of the holiday dinner. When they can’t communicate, Steve Martin’s wry voiceover fills in the gaps for us. In fairness the film has assembled such a great cast that this is really easy to watch. For the first hour, Christmas with the Coopers is amiable, nice, and hits enough honest emotional beats to keep you engaged. Emma (Tomei)’s plot plays the strongest – as she’s being driven to jail she tries to win over the robotic police officer so she can make it to the Cooper dinner. It’s a plot with real stakes, and where the character reveals come out naturally from the conflict between them, leading to an emotional story about the toll of childhood anxiety on the adult we become.
Once the Coopers do finally come together, the script begins to unravel. The family scenes have a confused tone, cluttered up with too much work to do – recurring jokes to continue, tensions to negotiate, and plotting to progress for each person at the dinnertable. It feels like the film doesn’t know where to go, so a load of plot happens really fast and – tada! – all the character conflicts are resolved and Christmas is saved. We know this because we’re told it by each of the family, then by the voice-over, and then we get a big scene of them all dancing together to underline it. But I can’t say I really felt it.
The final idea the film presents is that our past dreams, and the hopes others had for us, are baggage that we need to let go of to enjoy precious family moments. Each of the Coopers needs to be the best they can be now, instead of chasing a static image they have of success. It’s a lot like the final sentiment in Little Miss Sunshine, but that film really made you feel the characters had gone through hell in order to reach that change. We’re told the Coopers have changed, but I have no idea why or when they did. They just sorta do, because the writer needed them to, so he cut a load of corners, used a load of cheap tricks and brought you to the end credits so fast you don’t get much time to ask ‘why are they happy now?’.
What I’m saying is that when you do end up getting stuck watching this movie, there’ll be enough family-friendly chuckles to keep everyone vaguely happy, and there’ll be relatable stories of seasonal woes that’ll make your family nod along in sympathy. When the final act comes though, you’ll be much, much happier if you can duck out with an excuse. You can then use this time to plunder the remaining roses, or, this being a Christmas some year away in the future, re-enforce your proximity fence to guard against attack from the Christmas robots, the ones that will roam the wasteland eagerly tracking down small moments of family joy for sustenance.
Christmas With The Coopers is in cinemas on Tuesday 1st December. Check out the trailer below.
Featured Image Credit: finalreal.co.uk