Directed by Jesse Nelson
Starring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei and Alan Arkin
Christmas film review by Chris Olson
As this year’s major Christmas release, Jesse Nelson has a lot to live up to delivering Steven Rogers’ story to cinema audiences. The current UK Film Review #ChristmasFilmCountdown has shown some of the best festive films ever made, and we will also be seeing some of the lesser loved movies in the coming days. So where does Christmas with the Coopers end up? The Naughty or Nice list?
First off, from the trailer for this movie, audiences may enter under false pretences - this is not a riotously funny film, and does not try to be. From the outside, there seems to a familiar aroma of slapstick family capering, but that couldn’t be further from the reality. Nelson’s film is sharper than an electric carving knife, serving up huge doses of emotional poignancy.
The story is pretty simple; a family is coming together to spend Christmas with each other, even though all of them are going through some kind of emotional distress. Balancing their own problems with the expectations put upon them by fellow family members becomes the major feature of the film’s body, and something which the stellar cast pull off really well. For example, the characters of Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman), the central mum and dad of the story, are experiencing a breakdown in their relationship, which could well end after the Christmas period. This turmoil runs parallel with the love and joy which they find in their children, even if it can be exasperating at times.
Olivia Wilde turns in a particularly great performance as Eleanor, daughter of Charlotte and Sam, who simply wants to get through one Christmas without disappointing her parents. So she enlists the help of a stranger at an airport called Joe (Jake Lacy), who have an instant chemistry made up of equal measures of attraction and conflict, to pretend to be her stable boyfriend rather than admit the truth of her reckless personal life.
The film is told with a “many-threads” approach, giving interspersed scenes of the different family member’s situations, such as Marisa Tomei from the back of a cop car or Ed Helms in a job interview. This structure, similar to Love Actually (2003), works well to depict the complexity of one family at Christmas - how all the problematic tensions become magnified by the holiday season. Indeed, something which the narration (provided by comedy hero Steve Martin) picks up on.
Whilst there are some great comedy moments, especially the use of some quick-cutaway sequences, this film is built on a sturdy foundation of pathos and character. Tearjerking starts early and remains an unrelenting force throughout, delivered most effectively by Alan Arkin’s sombre grandfather character, whose charming affection towards diner worker Amanda Seyfried is beautifully arresting.
Far from what many viewers may be expecting, Christmas with the Coopers delivers that much needed reflection and schmaltz among all the lavish vibrancy of more typical festive films, and deserves a place on the Nice list.