‘Coopers’ director, Jessie Nelson, aimed for realistic family portrait

13 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Love the Coopers’ review: We wish you a lousy Christmas.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and mini Snickers are long gone, but the Halloween bag still holds a few Dum-Dums and boxes of rock-hard raisins. Move over “Christmas With the Kranks” (2004), “Love the Coopers,” which is known as “Christmas With the Coopers” in the UK (!), is the new worst Christmas season movie.During a chat with film students in the 1970s, director Frank Capra was asked if there were still a way to make movies about the sorts of values and ideas found in his films. “Well, if there isn’t,” he said, “we might as well give up.” And that would be a shame.What a waste, bored Christians going after Starbucks for their non-denominational holiday cups in another battle of the trumped-up “War on Christmas.” Save your breath, people, and your energy.

With a cast including Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, June Squibb, Anthony Mackie, Olivia Wilde, and Jake Lacy, it shouldn’t be that hard to make a pleasant if forgettable Christmas movie.”Love the Coopers” — which is either missing a comma, or giving an order that’s very easy to ignore — centers on a four-generation Christmas gathering at Keaton and Goodman’s house.

But even with such a talented ensemble, Love The Coopers’ convoluted narrative and overreliance on Christmas clichés keeps it from sparking any real holiday magic. This being the season of traditions, “Love the Coopers” follows the industry tradition of gathering a large ensemble of good actors around the tree, and then giving them a screenplay of pre-packaged commercial sentimentality to unwrap as best they can. The dining room table and kitchen island were laden with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, apple chutney, dump salad (lime Jell-O, cottage cheese, crushed pineapple and Cool Whip), breads and pear streusel cake, for starters, thanks to food stylist Melissa McSorley and property master Ellen Freund. Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman) head up the Cooper clan, and despite their insistence on one last perfect Christmas with their family, they’re on the brink of divorce, having drifted apart after 40 years of marriage.

Sam and Charlotte have been married for 40 years but plan to divorce, in part because they never went on that trip to Africa (?), and they plan to break the news to their extended family over Christmas dinner. The film deals with the human condition of living in the past and fearing the future, and of the universal worry of disappointing loved ones in the present.

Helms stars as their son Hank, who, after recently separating from his wife, has not only lost his job as a photographer but now has to raise his three children on his own. This family includes randy, retired professor “Grandpa” Bucky (Alan Arkin); the lower-class, 20-something waitress (Amanda Seyfried) on whom gramps has an old-man crush;, daffy Aunt Fishy (June Squibb, wasted), Charlotte’s shoplifting fantasist younger sister Emma (Marisa Tomei, wasted); Charlotte and Sam’s single daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who is having an affair with a married man, but picks up Joe (a likable Jake Lacy), a soldier headed for combat, at the airport to pretend to be her date. Also, Nelson, like Capra, is in favour of softly falling snow and shameless close-ups of a telegenic woman – in this case Olivia Wilde, who is at least as beautiful as Capra’s Donna Reed. That’s when the film is set, with far-flung members of the Cooper family coming home one last time for the Christmas Eve meal Charlotte (Keaton) prepares every year.

His sister Eleanor (Wilde) is a failed playwright, and she’d rather kill time in the airport bar than spend an extra minute with her judgmental family. Also on hand are Sam and Charlotte’s son Hank (Ed Helms), a divorced man with a controlling ex-wife (Alex Borstein) and two kids, one a toddler (Blake Baumgartner) who talks dirty. Keaton and then turned the camera toward another actor, the plates had to have the same amount of food for the sake of continuity. “Initially, that scene had so much energy and the actors were doing such beautiful work, and by the second or third day, I thought where is the energy? These narratives weave together over the course of Christmas Eve, with divergent stories focusing on characters like Charlotte’s sister (Tomei), who spends her Christmas in the back of a squad car after shoplifting a brooch.

I remember thinking, I’m never going to get the part because I’m an inch taller than him.’ Keaton then continued, ‘I remember he was on the stage, too, and he read with me. Little of it is funny, and even less makes any sort of chronological sense. (Wait — Marisa Tomei is supposed to be Diane Keaton’s sister?) Keaton and Goodman have some chemistry, and Wilde has the closest thing to a character — I’d have happily watched any of them alone.

Instead of “Good will toward men,” I wanted to scream, “Get me outta here.” Directed by Jessie Nelson, whose last directorial outing “I Am Sam” (2001) would have killed any other career, and scripted by Steven Rogers, whose last effort was “P.S. That was so odd because usually the stars don’t read with you, especially if they are Woody Allen, so that’s a moment that I will never forget.’ ‘I wouldn’t say it was immediate, no. Charlotte’s father (Arkin) also strikes up a relationship with a young, down-on-her-luck waitress (Seyfried) at the diner he frequents, and while it’s (uncomfortably) unclear whether his feelings toward her are fatherly or romantic, Arkin and Seyfried try their best to keep it from being too creepy.

Some 40 years later, the couple are about to divorce each other (amicably), but not before they host one more Christmas Eve dinner – a perfect four-generation get-together, something for everyone to remember. Let’s see, we have: unemployment, divorce, kleptomania, an arrest, sibling jealousy, loneliness in old age, loneliness in all ages, unrequited puppy love, sullen children and a cute little girl who likes to swear.

Adding authenticity was Rags, played by a part Saint Bernard-part Australian shepherd named Bolt, who gobbles dog biscuits masquerading as Christmas cookies, among other treats. “The trainer would come to work every day having read the scene thoroughly and giving me 10 choices of how Rags could interpret the scene. Wilde and Lacy’s chemistry keep their burgeoning relationship believable, even as they struggle with lazy clichés: He’s a good Christian and a Republican, she only believes in “the sound of Nina Simone’s voice.” Instead of letting the movie’s more emotional moments breathe, overly explanatory narration by Steve Martin interrupts any moments of tenderness. It all ends in – wait for it – a hospital, where everyone learns the true meaning of Christmas and family, and someone makes reference to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and/or Clarence the Angel. He could be sad that his owners are fighting, he could be angry, he could be confused, he could put his paw over his head,” or share a plate of food and fork with Ms.

But the rest of the movie is just a mess of cheap gags about senile old ladies and pimply young teens, strung together with the kind of holiday music they used to put on Starbucks CDs. The two biggest running gags — that Hank’s daughter (Blake Baumgartner) won’t stop calling people a d— and his teenage son (Timothée Chalamet) won’t stop sloppily making out with his girlfriend — weren’t that funny the first time.

The character, Ruby, is sad, a little lost and looking for a new start, and it is a credit to Seyfried that we didn’t need to notice the scar on the inside of Ruby’s left wrist to pick up on her depression. Grandfather Bucky (Arkin), meanwhile, is distraught that his favorite waitress Ruby (Seyfried) is leaving, and after he discovers a darker side to her life he invites her to dinner.

The day after Thanksgiving, when you are getting very weary of listening to Uncle Wingnut and Grandma Grumbles, you will pick up the paper and see an ad for it. It also has a swell soundtrack, highlighted by a lovely duet by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on the new song, “Light of Christmas Day.” That, at least, should become a holiday classic. And for good measure, Aunt Fishy (yes), played by the delightful June Squibb, gets to take the night off from the retirement home and spend it with this bunch.

Nelson returned to Pittsburgh last week to attend a cast and crew screening at AMC-Loews and conduct interviews at Downtown’s Fairmont Hotel, the temperature reached an unseasonal 78 degrees. The production had needed a wintry backdrop, and it got one, with days so cold that props and snow globes and even a camera truck froze in 10-below-zero weather. So she does what no one has ever done in real life but what is quite believable to Hollywood comedy makers: She picks up a stranger in an airport bar and brings him home as a prop boyfriend.

The ersatz couple makes up a detailed story to make their ruse believable – and what are the lies we tell ourselves and others but the truths that we need? Unfortunately, her messages come with shameless tricks of cuteness – too many cutaways to the family dog Rags, and a maternity ward full of babies in crocheted Christmas wear. In addition to Millvale, the movie filmed at Pittsburgh Studios in Churchill (where production designer Beth Rubino and others worked magic), houses in Sewickley and Edgewood, Pittsburgh International Airport, TGI Fridays at Consol Energy Center, Gateway Center subway station and along the T line, Butler Memorial Hospital, Boyce Park, Shop ’n Save in North Huntingdon, Broadmore Senior Living in South Fayette, Frick Art & Historical Center Greenhouse, Galleria mall and Mt.

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