‘Love the Coopers’ is ‘Love Actually’ lite

13 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Love the Coopers’ wraps up pre-packaged Christmas sentimentality.

A sort of low-serotonin “Love Actually,” this comedy-drama explores the various depressions, traumas and failures of an assortment of characters heading for the same Christmas dinner hosted by a feuding couple (Diane Keaton and John Goodman) who, following what the wife hopes will be one last perfect Christmas, are planning to split up right after the holidays. 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. The other guests include a sage old movie buff (Alan Arkin) and the waitress (Amanda Seyfried) who serves him in a diner; a struggling progressive playwright (Olivia Wilde) and a conservative Christian soldier (Jake Lacy) she meets in a bar; a shoplifter (Marisa Tomei) who has an unexpectedly frank conversation with the cop (Anthony Mackie) who arrests her; a single dad (Ed Helms) whose family doesn’t know he has lost his job; and batty old Aunt Fishy (June Squibb).

But there’s a new demand for such seriocomic holiday fare every year, and the 2015 entry has two things going for it: an A-list cast, and a made-in-Pittsburgh production stamp. Written by Steven Rogers (“Hope Floats,” “Stepmom”), the script is filled with acute character observations and hard-won wisdom: An old lady remembers “never considering she would ever be anything but young”; someone excuses an untruth by saying, “It wasn’t a lie, it was a wish.” Rogers is smart and funny about the unreasonable expectations and perennial frustrations of holiday gatherings where someone can, for instance, be 40 and remain “the child” of the family. 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. Emma (Tomei) is jealous of her sister Charlotte’s (Keaton) purported contentment: “You could be happy licking an envelope,” she says, unaware of the Chernobyl toxicity between Charlotte and Sam (Goodman) that wafts from a canceled vacation decades back. So we have John Goodman and Diane Keaton as Sam and Charlotte Cooper, the third rung up in a four-generation ladder of Coopers that includes Alan Arkin, Ed Helms, Marisa Tomei, June Squibb and Olivia Wilde, with others along for the fun.

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. 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. Nelson overplays the emotional moments, deploys a talking dog and blunders with on-the-nose imagery such as (two!) instances of people depicted via special effects as literally shattering; he should have stuck with the heartbreaking restraint of the several Bob Dylan songs, such as “Buckets of Rain,” on the soundtrack.

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? Charlotte collects snow globes (the film’s original title was “Let It Snow”), those pretty metaphors for a magical little universe you hold and control in your own hand. 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. 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.

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. Every time any of them get up to bat in a scene, they’re just doing such great work,” the director said. “And also, not to sound schmaltzy, but I was really lucky to shoot in Pittsburgh. 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. Singing (and acting) as sweetly here as in “Annie Hall” and “Radio Days.” Oscar winners Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny”) are equally delightful. 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.

Director Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam” with Sean Penn) gets good mileage out of Steven Rogers’ amusing script — a major tiff, for example, over whether the “Joy to the World” lyric is “The Lord has come” or “The Lord is come.” Mr. 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. In that one, her matriarchal empty nest was similarly replenished with the return of five offspring and their significant others at a gala Christmas Eve set piece that she refereed with a similarly oxymoronic combination of sensitivity and cluelessness.

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. Nelson, who counts “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Love Actually” as her favorite holiday films (until now), says, “I think times are tough for people so the idea of bringing some joy into the world is meaningful. “I think there is the feeling of the challenges of family and the messiness and insanity of all those dynamics and yet how important that is and how meaningful it is, and I don’t just mean the family you’re born into, I feel it’s families people create, also. “I always feel like you just want people’s hearts to get opened,” she said, and in an ideal world, “You come out of the movie appreciating the people in your life more.”

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