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Dustin Putman

Love the Coopers  (2015)
3 Stars
Directed by Jessie Nelson.
Cast: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, Jake Lacy, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie, June Squibb, Alex Borstein, Maxwell Simkins, Blake Baumgartner, Timothée Chalamet, Michelle Veintimilla, Keenan Joliff, Dan Amboyer, Kristin Slaysman, Lev Pakman.
2015 – 106 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, February 5, 2016.
Color me perplexed over the critical venom "Love the Coopers" ignited upon its November 2015 theatrical release. Having now seen the film twice—once on the big screen, again on Blu-ray—it delivers in every way a Christmas-set family comedy should. Director Jessie Nelson (2001's "I Am Sam") and writer Steven Rogers (2007's "P.S. I Love You") have made a slice-of-life both light and starry, thoughtful and sweet, understanding of the ruminative, even mournful truths of the holiday season while nonetheless capable of putting one in the holiday spirit.

Set over one eventful Pittsburgh-set Christmas Eve, the Cooper clan are reuniting for their annual celebration hosted by parents Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton). This year, however, Sam and Charlotte are holding onto a secret: they are planning to separate once the holidays are over. Also set to attend: the couple's grown son Hank (Ed Helms), a father of three going through a divorce and struggling to find a job while working as a mall photographer; their daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), a struggling playwright and disbeliever in love who bonds with soldier Joe (Jake Lacy) at the airport; Charlotte's lonely younger sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), arrested by troubled police officer Williams (Anthony Mackie) for attempting to steal a brooch at the mall, and Charlotte's widower father Bucky (Alan Arkin), saddened to learn the diner waitress he has befriended, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), is moving away. All of these lives and more are watched over omnisciently by a mysterious narrator whose identity will be revealed by movie's end.

"Love the Coopers" isn't immune to a few over-the-top moments and it never met a well-trodden plot device it didn't like, but its unabashed heart and hopefulness is akin to a warm, cozy knitted throw. The interwoven narrative and whimsical literary telling emits the feeling of devouring a good book, while the ensemble is uniformly excellent, with special notice going to John Goodman (2014's "The Monuments Men") for his poignantly underplayed work as a man struggling to keep up appearances while coming to terms over losing the partner with whom he thought he would be spending the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the snowy Pennsylvania setting gives the picture a comfortable working-class glow, and the soundtrack (featuring Fleet Foxes, Sting, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Sixpence None the Richer, and many more) is astutely chosen. "Love the Coopers" stretches believability with its timeline, sometimes hilariously—Emma's ride across town to the police station as she acts as therapist to Williams takes the better part of a full day and evening—but these discrepancies are easy to overlook when the emotions of its characters more often than not ring so true. Making a nice companion piece with another Diane Keaton-starring Yuletide dramedy, 2005's "The Family Stone," "Love the Coopers" is affectionate and unassumingly wise.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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