[Screen It]


(2015) (Diane Keaton, John Goodman) (PG-13)

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Family Comedy: A large family gathers for a Christmas Eve celebration where secrets, lies, petty jealousies, and regrets threaten to unravel multiple relationships.
Charlotte (DIANE KEATON) and Sam (JOHN GOODMAN) have been married for over 40 years. But with no more kids to take care of and the past loss of one of their children at a young age, the two have grown apart and are now on the verge of separating. Charlotte, though, wants to have one last, big, happy family Christmas Eve in their home and invites her children, grandchildren, and extended family, imploring Sam to go on with their charade of happy matrimony just through the holiday.

All of their family members have issues, too, that threaten to spoil everyone's Yuletide joy. Their son, Hank (ED HELMS), has been out of work for months and is still reeling from his divorce from Angie (ALEX BORSTEIN), who has moved on. Their sons, Charlie (TIMOTHEE CHALAMET) and Bo (MAXWELL SIMPKINS), bounce back and forth between parents. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Sam's daughter, Eleanor (OLIVIA WILDE), is involved with a married man who has opted to be with his family for the holiday. So, she has managed to convince Joe (JAKE LACY), a soldier on layover at the Pittsburgh airport, to pose as her boyfriend for the family dinner.

In addition, Charlotte's neurotic kid sister, Emma (MARISA TOMEI), has been caught shoplifting at the local mall and spends much of her Christmas Eve in a squad car with a closeted gay cop named Williams (ANTHONY MACKIE). Their father, Bucky (ALAN ARKIN), is heartbroken that his favorite young waitress at the local diner, Ruby (AMANDA SEYFRIED), is pulling up stakes and moving south to start a new life. Finally, Aunt Fishy (JANE SQUIBB) has been released from her nursing home for the holiday, but clearly suffers from dementia.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
After seeing "Love the Coopers" (terrible title, by the way), I feel like I've been set up. For most of the movie, director Jessie Nelson and screenwriter Steven Rogers present us with a family full of flawed, dysfunctional people trying their best to put a good face on for just one night -- Christmas Eve -- to give each other the illusion they are each happy, content, and in a good place. We know they're not. They're dealing with everything from divorce, imminent separation, and marital infidelity to unemployment, unfulfilled dreams, and unrequited love.

They're all just a mess, every single one of 'em. The family matriarch and patriarch, Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman), haven't gotten along in months and have finally agreed to separate and him to move out on Dec. 26. Their son, Hank (Ed Helms), is a father of three who hasn't had a job in months and is not on good terms with his ex-wife (Alex Borstein). Their daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), has become a full-time cynic who doesn't believe in true love, marriage, or God, but feels the need to bring home a fake boyfriend (Jake Lacy, who might be a star in the making ... or at least in good position after this flick to get Chris Pratt's hand-me-downs).

Then, there is Emma (Marisa Tomei), Charlotte's ne'er-do-well younger sister who has been caught shoplifting and spends much of her Christmas Eve in a squad car driven by a closeted gay cop (Anthony Mackie). At the same time, their elderly father Bucky (Alan Arkin) is heartbroken that his favorite diner waitress (Amanda Seyfried) is moving south permanently on Christmas Day. And Hank's oldest son, Charlie (Timothee Chalamet), is a mopey teenager dealing with acne and his first crush.

There is a palpable sense of melancholy that runs through the first half of this film that I actually found appealing. No, not because I'm one of those people who gets droopy around the holidays. I love everything between Turkey Day and Dec. 24. I change the Pre-Sets on my radio to all of the holiday stations, I over-decorate the house like a real jerk, and I watch as many of the perennial Christmas TV specials and holiday movies that I can budget time for.

But I always suspect that there are perhaps more people who feel the way the Cooper clan and their extended family feel at this time of the year than not, and they deserve their holiday stories being told, too. That's why I was more than a bit surprised that "Love the Coopers" takes SUCH a conventional turn in its final act and turns into just another run-of-the-mill, feel-good holiday flick where an inordinate number of characters quite literally line up and are given their happy endings one right after another.

Forget Santa. I half-expected the freakin' Wizard of Oz to make an appearance at the end and bestow on the various characters all that their hearts have been yearning for. I am all for happy endings, especially in Christmas movies. But I'm also for stories and characters staying true to themselves. One marriage is put back together in the span of about, oh, 30 seconds. Another relationship that really has no shot of working long term -- NONE -- is given the ride-off-into-the-sunset treatment. The granddaddy has the mildest stroke in the history of modern medicine. Another character, I guess, is sticking around even though she would be much, much better served pursuing a new life elsewhere. The list goes on.

A better ending true to what was set up before would have been some of these flawed, but essentially decent characters finding happiness; some admitting that they are a mess and seeking professional help; and others in a better place than before, but still searching. Maybe I'm giving away too much here, and I apologize. Or maybe you might be reading this and going, "Well, duh! It's a holiday movie, Mr. ScreenIt! Of course, everyone's going to get a happy ending!" I admit. Maybe I have a design flaw. But I wouldn't be surprised at all if there is an alternate ending to this film just waiting to be unearthed on DVD and Blu-Ray in a few months where everyone reassembles for New Year's Eve and back to being just as miserable as they were on Dec. 23. I give this a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed November 9, 2015 / Posted November 13, 2015

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