Posted by: deadmousediaries | December 3, 2015

Screw the Critics. Love the Coopers.

Who cares how loudly the Big Dogs bark. Screw the movie critics. I say this year’s holiday movie surprise is Love the Coopers. It delivers so much more than its silly promotional preview. If you’re like me and hate it when movie promotions over-promise one thing and under-deliver everything else, you will get caught up in Coopers. It is rich and deep and satisfying on so many levels it would have been impossible to have portrayed in accurately in a movie trailer. Despite the people who get paid big bucks to tell us what to think, I think this one has staying power and will become another collection must-have.

Diane Keaton and John Goodman lead a great cast that includes Alan Arkin, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms, and Marisa Tomei along with some fresh new faces. I have to admit, I’ve seen it three times because it feeds my Christmas spirit. Beautiful, believable falling snow and postcard landscapes fill the backgrounds. Warm and inviting interior shots evoke a feeling, and for me, that feeling is the distillation of all my best holiday memories.

The film is dotted with blink-and-miss moments: gingerbread men sporting g-strings, snow men frowning over little white lies. Listen for the tinkle of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree dropping its needles when you see Eleanor shatter and watch for Ruby’s likeness leaning in the doorway as Bucky’s Christmas ghost. 

I’m not sure when I’ve watched a Christmas movie with such a memorable soundtrack. This one is full of fun but also soulful, a  mixture of old and new. There’s even a little Dylan woven in. The opening number by a capella sensations Pentatonix sent me right to YouTube and then on to buy their new CD. Check out their clip of White Winter Hymnal to get a taste. Sting also sets up the film’s change of mood with his rendition of Soul Cake. Diane Keaton made me cry – all three times– when she sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as the family gathered in a circle on Christmas Eve. And we get a glimpse of the real Arkin as a master on the ukulele.

I think reviewers have missed all the marks. I wonder if they have tried to make this film into something it was never meant to be. For me, the characters are expertly drawn; they are real and flawed and forgivable. The writing is sassy and smart and Goodman’s injections of off-beat humor (and occasional misinterpretations of classic Christmas carol lyrics) are sprinkled in at all the right places.

It wasn’t until I saw it the second time that I realized one of the major things that pulls this film out of the list of ordinary Christmas movies; we get to see the holidays through so many eyes. In addition to parents facing a difficult decision after 40 Christmases together, there is a grown woman battling sibling rivalry. (We realize her concern might be justified when her older sister seats her at the kids’ table then declares her love, a seconds before plopping a scoop of pepper-heavy mashed potatoes on her plate.)  

The story includes a young divorced dad struggling with a job loss while another side road leads us to follow a snarky young woman waging a private battle to be “good enough” in her parents’ eyes. She dreads the holidays with such anticipation of their disappointment that she gives us a new word to describe that feeling: anticappointment. Along the way, we meet Joe, a young soldier trying to get home and facing the same dilemma but handling it in a different way. 

And what family holiday would be complete without a surly teenager? Coopers has one. Among the gifts his scenes bring us is a spectacularly awful first kiss, the kind that makes you shudder. His little sister is a pre-schooler waffling back and forth from being adorable to testing her command of attitude and she brings just the right punch. Her dialogue is sparse but her expressions are as close to authentic as any seasoned actress could ever conjure. Her lines, the words she has overhead her mother using, are not overplayed. They are injected sparingly and keep their zing.

At the other end, with more Christmas past than future, is everyone’s favorite aunt living out her days in a nursing home. She may be forever forgetful, but she is completely lovable and has a thing or two to teach us about embracing life’s simple delights. Arkin, now 81, is endearing as a wise but lonely patriarch who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young waitress (another point where the critics chose to pounce but did they see the ghost?). The scar on her wrist confirms she has missed out on the concept that any family memories can be happy.

In the end, the unlikely and understated hero is a little brother. With his untainted view of Christmas and of life, he is the one who has the instinct to do the absolute right thing and at the very best moment. He is the invisible glue putting all the pieces into place, one little nudge at a time.

This movie is about an extended family portrayed in a real way, the good, the bad and the holiday uglies. There is drama in the story and the treatment of it is real but it is lightened all along the way with great moments of comedy crafted in the way real families experience it. There are no contrived fairy tale endings in Love the Coopers but there are some satisfying fairy tale beginnings. To me, this movie is Christmas –and it’s family– in all our imperfections. Somewhere in there, there is a piece of each of us and that’s why I love the Coopers.  MK


  1. Thanks for an eloquent review. It’s on my list!

  2. Thanks for sharing. You writing makes me want to see it. Adding it to my list now. I do like the actors.

  3. Tried to send you an email but it bounced back, so I’ll tell you here about the penny I dropped for you and Doug yesterday. Actually, it was a nickel I found in Pittsburgh. I dropped it in Shadyside. Love you.

  4. Reading your review makes me want to run out and see this movie!! Thanks so much for sharing your insight.

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