AKA Meet The Coopers.
The last Christmas movie that director Jessie Nelson was involved with, to my knowledge, was Fred Claus (which got him a story and producing credit). This is a step up from that, but only just.
I struggled to put my finger on just what I was most reminded of while watching Christmas With The Coopers. Festive adornments aside, this was a familiar ensemble movie with a voiceover narration that explained numerous character backgrounds and differing viewpoints. At first I dismissed the whole thing as a poor attempt to recreate the style of Wes Anderson. Then I was reminded of the opening section of Magnolia. Finally, thanks in no small part to my realisation that the main narrative voice was none other than Steve Martin, I realised that it was Shopgirl. I quite like Shopgirl. It feels very much infused with the style, wit, and intelligence, of Martin (who adapted his own short story into the screenplay). It’s also a more serious companion piece to something like L.A. Story. Christmas With The Coopers tries to get close to that style, AND that wit and intelligence, but it ultimately fails. Probably because it’s happy to just point and say “look, Christmas, families, life, what you gonna do, eh?”
Steven Rogers is the scribe who tried to make this all work. He does enough to at least give everyone involved one decent moment each, but he lacks the incisiveness and focus to make the film anything more than a patchwork of snatched treats. Jessie Nelson doesn’t help with his direction, obviously, and misguidedly, agreeing with Rogers that the script is good enough to carry audiences through.
I’ve not summarised the main plot, mainly because there’s no need. This film is more a connected series of various episodes, all connected by the fact that each one involves a member of the extended Cooper family. They’re all due to get together for Christmas, and each and every one is dooing their best to hide some personal pain or grievance.
At least the film delivers when it comes to the casting. Diane Keaton and John Goodman work well together, Ed Helms does his usual highly-strung act, Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy are both very enjoyable, Amanda Seyfried and Alan Arkin have some of the best scenes in the whole film, Marisa Tomei tries her best, especially in her scenes with Anthony Mackie, and that narration from Steve Martin benefits from being, well, the voice of Steve Martin.
I’m sure some may think I have been too harsh on Christmas With The Coopers, especially when considering how generous I can be with other films that capitalise on the good cheer at this time of year, but I think I’ve been fair. The whole thing is a big missed opportunity, sqaundered by a script that reads more like a selection of deleted scenes from some spin-off of Arrested Development (with a lot less laughs).
DIRECTOR: JESSIE NELSON
WRITER: STEVEN ROGERS
STARS: DIANE KEATON, JOHN GOODMAN, ED HELMS, OLIVIA WILDE, JAKE LACY, AMANDA SEYFRIED, ALAN ARKIN, MARISA TOMEI, ANTHONY MACKIE, STEVE MARTIN (VOICE ONLY)
RUNTIME: 107 MINS APROX