On Christmas Eve, the Cooper family prepare to spend the holidays together. The trouble is that each of them is lying in their own way; Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are disguising the fact they are about to separate after 40 years of marriage, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) brings home a stranger she meets in an airport to pretend to be her boyfriend, and waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) has not told her favourite customer Bucky (Alan Arkin) that she is moving away from Pittsburgh for good.
Christmas With the Coopers sounds like a great idea for a movie on paper; as a family prepare to come together for the holidays, they try to present the best versions of themselves, while their secrets come to light and bring the family closer together. On screen, however, only some of these intertwining stories actually work, and the choice to have a mysterious voice narrate the entire film is a strange one.
It is fair to say that all of the cast of the film – Maria Tomei, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Diane Keaton – do well with what they are given. That said, it is also fair to say that many of the actors, given the ensemble nature of the film, are not given very much to work with at all. Olivia Wilde comes off perhaps best, with her story being engaging ad revealing, with Wilde lighting up the screen every time she appears.
Steven Rogers’ screenplay tries to unravel the mystery of why families resent coming together for the end of the year celebrations, and why they feel the need to lie to one another, but there is simply too much going on. A clearer focus on perhaps four of the stories would have made a stronger film, especially if there was a focus given to the couples pretending to be together for the sake of their families.
Director Jessie Nelson has experience with Christmas movies, having written the Vince Vaughn holiday comedy Fred Claus, but he has an uneven hand in Christmas with the Coopers. Some of the stories are more fleshed out than others, leaving the ignored to feel surplus to requirement. There are a couple of giggles to be had throughout the film, but the comedy simply is not there, and the entire film feels rather familiar, like we have been here before.
In all, there are good things within Christmas with the Coopers, but an uneven hand, choppy editing and too many stories turns this from an examination of a family at Christmas to a rather messy ensemble piece that tries a little too heard to be heart warming. Still, it’s a step up from a lot of the cornier Christmas movies out there.