Movie review: “Love the Coopers”

OK so “Love The Coopers”.

This movie was marketed as the inheritor to “The Family Stone”–a modest, well-rehearsed actor’s piece centering on a mildly dysfunctional family, with faint overtones of “Love Actually”‘s spiderweb-like structure (where we meet all the characters first and discover their intersections later). And when you dig into the IMDb listings, you’ll find a lot of complimentary DNA for those claims: this movie is one writer, director, or producer away from “P.S. I Love You”, “Stepmom”, and “Sideways”, all of which were solid, character-driven movies. Unfortunately, it’s also one degree of separation away from “Safe Haven”, “The Story of Us”, “Kate and Leopold”, and “The Ugly Truth”–some of the worst, most misguided “romantic” movies made in the last twenty years. (Interestingly, it’s also one degree away from “August: Osage County”, which manages to be both.) With so much chaos in the family tree, and thirteen producers at the helm (you heard me. Thirteen. There were thirteen cooks in this kitchen), “Love the Coopers” is neither disaster nor triumph: it’s a festively wrapped box of hazard chocolates. Overall, there’s plenty to enjoy, as long as you don’t accidentally grab one of the truffles with toothpaste filling.

Good chocolates include: Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy, whose chemistry is so immediate and delightful that they should be indentured by law, like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, to star in romantic comedies at eight-year intervals for the rest of time. Watching these two flirt is like shaking up a soda can to explosive levels before hiding to watch your victim open it–an exercise in fizzy, giddy anticipation. The nation needs you to take one for the team, Olivia and Jake. SAVE US FROM KATHERINE HEIGL AND GERARD BUTLER.

A smallish role by Anthony Mackie, nearly unrecognizable as a repressed, stone-faced cop. For other actors, this role would be a literal straight-jacket–for Mackie, it’s just another opportunity to wow us with his apparently endless reserve of understated emotion.

A stellar performance by the city of Pittsburgh, refreshingly photographed as an actual location with recognizable geography, architecture, and culture–not a badly disguised stand-in for New York, or (even worse) a vaguely American EveryTown.

Bad chocolates include:

A face-clutching voiceover track allegedly delivered by the dog and almost certainly added in post by a nervous producer who holds the American audience in such deep disdain that he actually thought we needed a fucking dog to spell out the plot for us with such helpful reassurances as: “How do all these people fit together? That’s my story.” and “Time was kind to Bucky at that moment.” Excruciating.

Weirdly, John Goodman and Diane Keaton, who (hamstrung by a script that keeps them yo-yoing between opposite emotional poles in an exhausting will-they-won’t-they-get-divorced dance centering on a trip to Africa they might or might not take) both turn in the first bad performances of their lives. It’s not really their fault. Olivia and Jake took all the chemistry at the outset of the movie and are even now using it to fuel the first manned mission to Mars.

A strange, queasy-making almost-romance between Amanda Seyfried and Alan Arkin, who is, at 81, for those counting, 2.7 times Amanda Seyfried’s age. It is supposed to be “gentle” and “innocent”. I submit to you that “gentle” and “innocent” stops at tongue-kissing on a hospital stretcher.

Okay chocolates include: a soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, but also Sting. We can’t have everything.

Which turns out, rather refreshingly, to be the message of the movie. We can’t have everything in life, and some of the things we will lose, fritter away, or miss out on entirely will really sting. But there is comfort to be found in the imperfect leftovers, so make yourself a sandwich and enjoy.

Try to ignore the moralizing dog.

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