by Vincent Chan
Rated M. Starring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried and Ed Helms. Directed by Jessie Nelson.
It’s always slightly odd watching a Christmas film in Australia. While the screen in front of you is filled with holly and white snow, outside the weather is warm and people are walking around in shorts and t-shirts. In other words, Christmas time brings out different things for different people. For some it’ll be the presents and frenzy of gift shopping. For others, the focus may be the family gathering and the traditions it entails.
Love the Coopers decides to play on all those things, focussing on the Cooper family as they work towards their annual Christmas dinner. Children and grandchildren are coming together from all over to share a meal together for one night. The turkey is set and the apple pie is baking away in the oven. Yet underneath all the neatly packaged glamour of tinsel and colours is the angst of family gatherings, disappointed dreams and complicated relationships.
Love the Coopers doesn’t stray too far away from the clichés that come with the genre of Christmas comedy. Multiple storylines of different members in the family are followed as they converge together for the inevitable conflict – the annual dinner. Included in the mix are all your traditional characters: aunt-who’s-not-married; high school boy building up the nerves to kiss the girl; family man looking for a job and a bit down on his luck; and of course, the family dog.
Clichés aren’t a bad thing if they make the story work; unfortunately, that’s not the case here. Part of the problem is genre. While it’s marketed as comedy and the film was certainly lighthearted, the laughs were few and far in between. Even more pressing was the bigger problem concerning the likeability of the characters. Their flawed natures should have made me root for them; instead, by dinner time I was cringing.
The saving grace is the relationship of Sam (Goodman) and Charlotte Cooper (Keaton). Playing the mum and dad in the family, they’re the core that’s holding the thin threads of all the other members together. There is something real in the way they converse with one another. As they try to keep the family running, they themselves are trying to salvage their own marriage which has become empty and lost in the midst of caring for their children. It’s in these moments, as they reflect on the joys in their history, that you wonder whether this was what the movie title was trying to get at when it said ‘Love the Coopers’.
As a film about Christmas, it’s always interesting to watch the social commentary on the season and what it says about Jesus. The film attempts to go the route of political correctness when it comes to Christianity: there’s one character who identifies as Christian and even proposes the family say grace before dinner, but nothing beyond that. In other words, say a little but not a lot. Indeed, the film is unambiguous that the unifying point of Christmas is neither race, religion or sexuality – but family. This lack of interest in Christ is unsurprising, after all the goal of the film is ultimately just to make you feel good for a couple of hours. Matthew 1:21:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Yet Christmas is a time when we are reminded again of the good news of Jesus. Over the years of pop culture and pop up stands, for many the Christmas story has become nothing more than a warm bedtime story they hear before they open the presents on Christmas morning. Yet if you actually read the account of it in the Bible, the story actually is not really warm nor fuzzy. After all, the story of Jesus coming into the world is not to make you feel good, but to show you that there is good news. Why not take the time over the holiday season to read the account again from the Bible?
The Verdict: Love the Coopers aims to make you feel nice and snug, but as a present for Christmas it fails to give any new surprises. 2/5
Love the Coopers will be released in Australia this Thursday, 26th November; and in the UK on Tuesday, 1st December. It is already screening in the US.