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|Love the Coopers
|UK title: Christmas With the Coopers
dir Jessie Nelson
scr Steven Rogers
prd Brian Grazer, Michael London, Jessie Nelson, Janice Williams
with Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, Jake Lacy, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie, Timothee Chalamet, June Squibb, Steve Martin
release US 13.Nov.15, UK 1.Dec.15
15/US CBS 1h47
Not-so-happy holidays: Keaton and Goodman
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Marketed as a wacky holiday comedy, it's rather surprising that this film strikes a more serious tone right from the start, with Steve Martin's warm, wry narration introducing us to each member of the sprawling Cooper clan as they reluctantly approach a Christmas Eve dinner together. There are plenty of hilarious moments along the way, but the themes are never flippant.
As they prepare for the holidays, the disconnected Charlotte and Sam (Keaton and Goodman) are considering calling time on their 40-year marriage. Their children Hank (Helms) and Eleanor (Wilde) have issues too: he's struggling with being divorced and jobless, while she's trying to avoid her family, flirting shamelessly with a hunky soldier (Lacy) she meets in the airport. Meanwhile, Charlotte's father Bucky (Arkin) is encouraging his favourite waitress (Seyfried) not to give up on life, while Charlotte's sister Emma (Tomei) is trying to get through to a cop (Mackie) who has arrested her for shoplifting.
Rogers' script never digs too far beneath the surface, spreading the depth among the large ensemble. But the issues swirling around are weighty enough to strike a resonant chord. This is a film about how life is only very rarely like the happy-glowing images we surround ourselves with at the holidays. So with its multi-strand plot, this film feels rather a lot like an American remake of Love Actually in which the main characters are directly related to each other.
So it's left to the powerhouse cast to add some oomph to the movie, and they do this even in the throwaway moments. Keaton and Goodman are terrific at the centre, adding subtle shadows to their twinkly performances. Arkin finds some new nuances in his usual patriarchal figure, while Tomei gets the most complex role as a woman adrift. Helms and Wilde manage to find some texture in charming-but-unlikeable roles, as do Lacy, Seyfried and Mackie as the somewhat less-defined outsiders.
Director Nelson is clearly uninterested in pushing any single character too far. But there's something to engage with in each of them, and the film's continual nostalgic/emotional surges are both meaningful and thankfully not overly sentimental. But what's most surprising is the relentlessly bittersweet tone, which continually undermines the comedy with darker honesty. So even if the movie feels contrived and too tidy, it captures that awkward, quiet desperation most of us feel as the holidays approach.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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