Love the Coopers


You know the plot where the girl gets someone to pretend to be her boyfriend when she visits home so her parents won’t nag her about being single? And the one where a guy has lost his job but pretends to go to work every day so his family won’t know? “Love the Coopers” has BOTH of those plots, plus several more. It’s better than it sounds like it would be (it sounds like it would be an excruciating nightmare), but not much.

Set entirely on the day of Christmas Eve as the various Coopers scramble around Pittsburgh doing last-minute things, the movie is too crowded to survive without a narrator, so Steve Martin was recruited to fill us in. After however many years of marriage, Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam Cooper (John Goodman) are considering divorce, but they’re waiting till after the Christmas Eve festivities to tell the family. Their son, Hank (Ed Helms), is the one who got fired and hasn’t told anyone yet. Their daughter, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), has just flown in but is in no hurry to get home, so she kills time flirting with an Army man, Joe (Jake Lacy), at the airport bar before persuading him to be her fake boyfriend.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), a “life coach,” has been arrested for shoplifting a gift for Charlotte. (Emma has issues.) She spends most of the film in the backseat of a police car being driven by Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie), whose robotic demeanor prompts Emma to pry into his life and eventually turn this into a therapy session. Everything that happens between them, including the part where it takes several hours to drive from the mall to the police station, is phony movie garbage that doesn’t make a lick of sense in the real world. Forget I mentioned them.

Also meanwhile, Charlotte and Emma’s father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), is sad because he has breakfast at the same diner every single day (that’s not the sad part) and his favorite waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), is quitting. Her life is in a rut here in Pittsburgh, so she’s moving to … Hot Coffee, Mississippi, to be a diner waitress there. I kid you not, that’s her plan. Anyway, Bucky is sad.

(Are you wondering how Alan Arkin, 81, is father to both Diane Keaton, 69, AND Marisa Tomei, 41? Or how Keaton and Tomei are sisters when they are 28 years and several ethnicities apart? Or how the age difference between them in flashbacks to their childhood is only about five years? Well, stop. It won’t get you anywhere.)

More meanwhile, the John Goodman character has an aunt (June Squibb) who serves no function in the story except to waste time. The Ed Helms character has two sons (Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simpkins) whose usefulness escapes my recollection, plus a little girl (Blake Baumgartner) whose job is to say a certain vulgar word whenever we see her, because what good is an ensemble Christmas dramedy without a foul-mouthed little girl?

The film was directed by Jessie Nelson, who wrote and directed “I Am Sam,” and written by Steven Rogers, with whom Nelson helped co-write “Stepmom.” These two have a long history of making mediocre family-oriented nonsense, and “Love the Coopers” (that’s an imperative phrase, by the way: PLEASE! LOVE US!) has them at the height of their vanilla-flavored powers. The movie has the form of a touching, nostalgic look at Christmas, but for everything that works well — Wilde and Lacy, despite the dumbness of their story, are actually good together — there are three more than don’t. The laughs are scant, the convincing emotions scanter. Even John Goodman, who can usually improve anything, is forlorn and lost in this overstuffed holiday mishap.

C (1 hr., 47 min.; PG-13, some profanity and vulgarity.)