If you like spending the yuletide season with horrible people, have I got a movie for you. Christmas with the Coopers (called Love the Coopers in North America) is so awful, so cringeworthy, so full of forced quirkiness, excruciating cuteness, and phony emotion that it made me question my love for other movies about families gathering for a big festive meal, such as Home for the Holidays and The Family Stone. Coopers is so noxious that I suddenly wondered whether I had been wearing blinders when I fell in love with those movies, blinders that have now somehow dropped away. (I don’t think so. If I get a chance to revisit those movies, I’ll let you know if I still love them.) It takes a special kind of awful for a film to make you doubt yourself and infect your memories of other films.
It’s Christmas Eve, and the Coopers of Pittsburgh are all running around getting ready for the big dinner that night. Charlotte (Diane Keaton: Mad Money, Because I Said So) and Sam (John Goodman: Trumbo, The Gambler) mostly spend the day bickering in a way meant to engender sympathy for how they have drifted apart over the years, but that only makes us want to run screaming from the cinema. (The focus of their arguing is a big trip to Africa that they have been putting off for years, which he still wants to go on and she doesn’t; this is the form their drifting apart has taken, and it makes them sound like privileged dolts with no real problems in the world.) Their day is mostly taken up babysitting their “funny” foul-mouthed preschool granddaughter (Blake Baumgartner) and Sam’s “funny” farting aunt (a shameful misuse of June Squibb, who played the amazing matriarch in Nebraska), who is seemingly suffering from Alzheimer’s, which not at all hilarious, despite the film’s insistence that it is.
Cooper son Hank (Ed Helms: Vacation, They Came Together) is spending Christmas Eve on job interviews, because that’s a thing that happens. (The only genuinely, if accidentally, funny line of the movie is the one that tells us that Hank has been on 17 job interviews this month. Like that happens in 2015!) Cooper daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde: The Lazarus Effect, Her) is hanging around the airport because she can’t stand the thought of going home, because airports are so much fun on Christmas Eve, where she has a day-long not-at-all adorable meet-cute with soldier Joe (Jake Lacy: Obvious Child). Grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin [The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Stand Up Guys], who is only 12 years older than Keaton, who is supposed to be his daughter), is grieving the loss of his years-long not-at-all charming meet-cute with diner waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried: Fathers & Daughters, Pan), because she’s about to move out of town and didn’t even tell him, which about measures up to the emotional level of their relationship as the movie depicts it: that is, minor, except in his head, where he is in love with her, which he should just keep his mouth shut about but, naturally, does not. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei: Trainwreck, The Ides of March) expresses her resentment of her older sister by shoplifting a “gift” for her first thing that morning, which then gets her arrested by Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie: Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron), who literally drives her around for the entire rest of the day ostensibly on their way to the police station so she can be booked, but actually so that she can psychoanalyze him, and he her, because this is a thing that would happen. (This is probably not a productive use of limited police resources.)
These aren’t real people: they are glossy Hollywood automatons sleepwalking through family dynamics painted with the sort of broad brushstrokes that a paint-by-numbers kit would be embarrassed to try to pass off as an acceptable approximation of authenticity. The script, by Steven Rogers (P.S. I Love You, Kate & Leopold), is embarrassingly bad, and features a stream of obvious narration from a character who couldn’t possibly have knowledge of what he’s saying, and that gets increasingly awful as the movie goes on; can one be “filled” with a “tiny, distant memory”? (Oh dear, and the lightheartedness with which it pulls out of its hat the thing that will bring the family together at the end is just wrong.) Director Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) gets in way too close on people’s faces sometimes, in an uncomfortably weird way, like we’re invading their personal space at a moment when it’s not at all warranted. It’s all desperately unfunny, and while it wants to be lovable and sweet, the most convincing emotion it evokes is disgust.