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REVIEW — “Love The Coopers”

Love the Coopers
Love the Coopers
: it’s ho-ho-horrible! Is that title creatively bereft? (I’m not entirely sure if I used the word “bereft” correctly, and in complete transparency, I found myself pondering what the hell kind of word “bereft” is whilst in the middle of being subjected to the horror that is Love the Coopers). Love the Coopers is so passe and so pathetically conjured up that I couldn’t muster up the physical energy to come up with a title that is both clever and witty. Like giving a tie as a Christmas gift, the title of this review is both immediately obvious and unforgivably lazy. A tie for Christmas says, with the utmost of subtext, “I don’t care enough about you to select a gift tailored to your preferences, but I don’t not care about you to the point where I got you nothing.” Except, in this case, a gift of “nothing” would be preferable, as every part of Love the Coopers would have been better off being left behind in the dumping grounds that are Christmas clearance bins on December 26th.

Love the Coopers
Love the Coopers is trite, it’s cliche, and – worst of all – you feel as though the writer didn’t put anything even remotely resembling effort into its creation. (Making the title of this article wholly deserved). That, to be succinct, is precisely the problem with Love the Coopers: the absolute minimum of effort went into this film. A half-baked Christmas pie, an underpaid mall Santa who arrives to work merrily hung over, an unfinished snowman composed of two lumps of muddy, brown snow – the film is a lazily produced, hobbled together, misshapen piece of work, like a string of Christmas lights dangling pathetically off of that sloppily decorated house at the end of the street. “Who cares,” says the owner of that house, slinking into a chair with a frosty glass of eggnog. “They’ll see it anyway.”

Love the Coopers
I went to see Love the Coopers not because I like making Christmas puns in scathing reviews, but because I enjoy feeling like I’m a terrible person and I’m being unequivocally punished by the universe. Watching Love the Coopers is what it must be like to walk into your living room on Christmas morning to find that Santa left a pair of poopy underpants in your stocking. There are no presents under your tree, with the only evidence of a Christmas tree ever having stood in this empty space being the odd number of pine needles littered on the floor. Your living room has been Grinch-ed. The walls are bare, your television is missing, and your twenty year old Frosty the Snowman Christmas cookie plate is doomed to live out the remainder of its days holding displaced change and hard candies.

That’s right: watching Love the Coopers is like finding out Santa left you the soiled remnants of a hard night’s work and burgled you like Bernie Madoff with a reindeer-powered getaway vehicle. You went in expecting one thing – holiday cheer, maybe a warm, fuzzy feeling – and instead, you’re left with nothing. Nothing but a disgusting feeling and an overwhelming desire to say “bah, humbug” and drink away your seasonal affective disorder  with the heaviest eggnog you can find. Love the Coopers is a schizophrenic, bizarre, hodgepodge misfire that is completely without anything even close to resembling an identity.

Love the Coopers
In Love the Coopers, a family-who-doesn’t-feel-like-a-family engage in their own misadventures and episodic segments before inevitably coming together so they can all have “comedic” and “heart-warming” interactions before they kiss, hug, and – of course – set everything right by the end credits. While you watch unlikable characters do boring, “who cares?” things, your mindset is that of someone who is unable to eat for twenty four hours before a colonoscopy. You’re simultaneously wishing to be filled while dreading what’s coming. If I wanted to watch Olivia Wilde flirt in a T.G.I. Friday’s, I’d knock back some of that hard eggnog and fantasize about a better life while I’m passed out like a dog on the floor.  Speaking of dogs, Love the Coopers features frequent, overbearing narration from the family dog. That’s not a delusion brought about from the eggnog, either: the film pulls the A Christmas Story shtick, but here, Ralphie has a habit of barking at televisions and licking himself between the legs.

Love the Coopers
I knew I was in for a tedious experience when a simple scene set in a busy diner featured handheld camerawork. Alan Arkin is seated at a window-side table, with waitress Amanda Seyfried standing beside him, having a conversation about Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. Meanwhile, the camera is jerking around, zooming in and out indiscriminately, like Arkin and Seyfried wandered into a fight scene from The Bourne Identity. A medium shot would then quickly push into an ECU – extreme close up – violating the actors’ personal space. It’s not only unfounded, but distracting. Was it a directorial choice to add some pep and energy to an otherwise dull scene? Was it a byproduct of the shoddy editing? I don’t know, but this cinéma vérité style feels like anything but planned – feeling more like the camera operator didn’t know how to work the camera and was too afraid to ask for help.

Love the Coopers
There’s Ed Helms, the cliche, downtrodden, bustling dad whose family underappreciates him. Do you think they realize the error of their ways by the film’s closing? Helms’ character is one of many in a film that has more characters, subplots, and side stories than a soap opera set on a rabbit farm. The narrative jumps around, more jittery and unfocused than a hopped-up college student with a thesis due date. Love the Coopers has so many characters, so much going on, that there’s no time for subtlety. Five minutes into the film, Diane Keaton and John Goodman share an exchange that’s so on-the-nose, so pathetically delivered, that the amateurish, expository dialogue convinced me I was watching an episode of Sesame Street. “I’m not dying,” says Goodman, prompting Keaton to reply with, “no, but we are,” hinting at their impending divorce. And by “hinting,” of course, I mean it’s so obvious it lights up the night like Rudolph’s nose so bright.

Love the Coopers
Keaton, as the matriarch, wants to give her kids one, last, traditional family Christmas before breaking the news that mom and dad are getting a divorce. The family would be devastated, you see. None of them like each other and none of them want to spend time together, but they would be absolutely obliterated if the mom and dad they don’t really care about got divorced. The only thing that this group of dysfunctional adults could bond over is their obvious disdain and apathy for one another. As soon as we meet Olivia Wilde’s character, what do we learn about her? That she’s dreading going home for the holidays, of course. Who wouldn’t? This is a family comprised of a relentlessly bickering couple of forty years, an aunt who commits a theft in her introductory scene, a frazzled son divorced from his selfish family and his cold, mean wife, a grandfather who has a crush on a waitress who could be his granddaughter, a daughter who concocts a sitcom-esque plot of asking a stranger to pose as her boyfriend, and a “kooky” great aunt with Alzheimer’s – who serves as the primary comic relief, of course. Not only does it rip off the aunt Bethany from the Christmas classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but  June Squibb’s only presence in the film is to interject the sad musings of an elderly woman suffering from a debilitating disease of the mind. Merry Christmas!

Love the Coopers
Love the Coopers is an unpleasant experience, one where unsuspecting moviegoers are lulled into a false sense of expectation before a horrific realization sets in: you’re not watching a Christmas movie, you’re watching a melodramatic family soap opera that happens to be set at Christmastime. If Love the Coopers weren’t set at Christmas, I wouldn’t have prompted the family to make the trek to see the film on a cold, crisp, November night. The drive to the theater featured a soundtrack that included Christmas classics such as Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home). ” Alternatively, there was no soundtrack on the way home – instead, the car was filled with boisterous and blatantly critical criticisms of the unavoidable trainwreck that we had just bared witness to, like seeing Santa Claus soil his pants while you’re seated upon his lap at the mall.

If I wanted to watch a group of unbearable, uninteresting, and unlikable people come together for the holidays, I’d go to my Aunt Stella’s house. The much better Christmas Vacation managed to pull off the “stressful relatives” trope without having the experience be torturous for the viewer. Clark Griswold’s relatives may be crass, rude, or overbearing – but to us, the audience, they’re amusing. They make us laugh. We sympathize with Clark – maybe even seeing some of our own zany relatives in some of the characters. Love the Coopers completely fails to get you to care about or even empathize with any of its (many) characters.

Love the Coopers
Love the Coopers has all the fun of placing you in the backseat of the family sedan as you and your miserable, pissed-off family travel to meet and greet and share holiday memories with people you rarely associate with, people that you barely even like. People who you would otherwise never associate with were it not for that biblical guilt-trip that is familial relation. It wasn’t thirty six dollars well spent – instead, Love the Coopers left me feeling as though I’d been mugged. Thirty six dollars gone, vanished, with nothing to show for it besides a bruised ego and an unending hatred of the virus that is humanity. I expected holiday cheer, warmth, and laughs, and instead received a Christmas film that had all the warmth and good feeling of a corpse fished out of a frozen-over river on Christmas Eve.

This is a film where Olivia Wilde shatters like glass as the narrator – who is a dog – tells us that her emotional state was “shattered.” But then, this is a film that handles its exposition so clumsily – “I was a music teacher,” says Keaton, to her husband of forty years, three months, and six days, who would already have that information – and a film that relies on narration from a dog to spoon-feed information to its audience. Why do what good screenplays do – like express and reveal character through action and dialogue – when you could simply give voice to an omnipresent dog? Good movies show, they don’t tell. Love the Coopers tells you, via dog narration, everything you need to know. Except, of course, that you should have saved your thirty six dollars and simply stayed at home with your Blu-ray of A Christmas Story or A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Love the Coopers
The “dysfunctional family comes together at Christmas” genre isn’t tired – how many films carrying this central premise can you name? – and it’s understandable why it’s a prime candidate for Christmas films. The problem isn’t what story is being told. The problem is how that story is told and who it’s told with. Love the Coopers is plagued with nasty, unlikable characters, and is similar to reading a Christmas letter from those family members that you hate down in Florida. Their exploits are explained to you, and your immediate response is: “who cares?” Who cares about these people? They don’t even care about each other! They don’t want to spend time around one another! And it’s easy to see why – these people are terrible. It’s not just a thematic failure, it’s a failure by the screenwriter to craft characters that you want to be involved with, characters that you care about, identify with, and root for. Love the Coopers is a hardened fruitcake eaten by a starving man. You eat it up because, hey, it’s Christmas and you gotta eat, but you don’t enjoy it.

Love the Coopers
I’ve been starved for Christmas movies, a type of film which has – unfortunately – fallen largely to the wayside in recent years. Gone are the days where at least one holiday-themed release would make its way into theaters for the season, carrying that “extra-special” feeling because Christmas, after all, comes around but once a year and is gone in the blink of an eye. Love the Coopers is plagued with the worst editing I’ve seen in a feature film this year, a victim of the sloppy, messy, unfocused screenplay. The narrative is jumbled, confused, erratic, bumbling between scenes without rhyme or reason. Plenty of films carry a large cast of characters, spending time with one, then another, then another, before intersecting the various plots into a cohesive whole. But this is no Crash – instead, we’re whisked from scene to scene, character to character, place to place, without any motivation or narrative reason. There was no assembly here, no design: the film is a chaotic, scrambled mess. The thin, practically non-existent plot is spread out over too many characters. Instead of dedicating time to a certain group of characters, fleshing them out, and realizing them as actual people, Love the Coopers spreads itself too thin, giving too much of its limited running time to side characters and characters who aren’t part of the Cooper clan (lucky them).

Love the Coopers
The freakish and distracting cinematography is supplemented by an odd, annoying soundtrack, both of which come together to detract from the product as a whole. I say product because, at its heart – its cold, dead, tiny Grinch heart – that’s what Love the Coopers is. This film is the perfect representation of the commercialization that plagues Christmas and of the soullessness that manages to pervade the worst that Hollywood has to offer. All movies are products. Elf, a modern Christmas tale in its own right, is a product. But it’s also funny, touching, and endearing. Love the Coopers is the Ebenezer Scrooge of this moviegoing season: it’s uncaring and unfeeling. It’s pessimistic and heartless. It’s a miser, poisoning everyone unlucky enough to come into contact with it.

Love the Coopers
I wanted a bike for Christmas, and all I got was coal. Love the Coopers is supposed to be about a miserable, disenfranchised family coming together. And it’s supposed to help bring your family together, the perfect family outing for the holidays. Love the Coopers ends up being that obnoxious, overbearing, insufferable relative that comes around and ruins the most wonderful time of the year. “Leaving doesn’t change anything,” says Arkin as he imparts wisdom to Seyfried, “everything just comes with you.” Astute advice, but inapplicable to patrons who have the sense, perhaps, to leave forty minutes into Love the Coopers. Everything most certainly doesn’t come with you, as Love the Coopers will mercifully be left behind, resigned to a fate of half-empty and deserted theaters – eventually shuffling off of this mortal coil, into DVD bargain bins and onto cable networks where it belongs. And that just may be the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Love the Coopers: 1/5.

★ ★ ★ ★

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