Sunday, 6 December 2015

Love The Coopers (2015) - Movie Review
Even with how Christmas is extolled as the season of cheer and goodwill, it’s also a notorious time of year for families to just explode at each other. To be fair, it does make sense for this to happen: Gather a bunch of people you only see once a year in a single house, and all those grievances they haven’t had a chance to air out before in person suddenly bubble up to the surface. Considering this, it is understandable for there to be a sizeable market for Christmas films involving dysfunctional family shenanigans. Probably the best example of this would be National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a film that showed our capacity for both love and hate while still keeping that Yuletide charm. The closest I’ve gotten to reviewing this brand of film before would be with last year’s This Is Where I Leave You, which followed the family dynamics of the sub-genre only set them during a different religious event. Given how grouchy everyone can get when that time of year gets closer, this is just the kind of film to help bring families together… usually.

The plot: As Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton)’s marriage is on the brink of ending, Charlotte wants one last family Christmas where everyone can be happy together. Over the course of the film, we follow them as well as Hank (Ed Helms), Bucky (Alan Arkin), Emma (Marisa Tomei), Madison (Blake Baumgartner), Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), Charlie (Timothée Chalamet) and Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) as, over the course of one Christmas Eve, they rediscover that feeling of togetherness that Christmas brings with it every year.

As far as the word ‘dysfunction’ when it comes to making a dysfunctional family Christmas film, there’s certainly no shortage of it in this family. However, it goes beyond just them having issues into featuring some truly unlikeable characters at points. Whether it’s those that have a phenomenal lack of a spine like Hank, lack of a presence like Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), lack of tact like Emma or lack of a soul like Eleanor, it gets pretty miserable watching the film spotlight each of them in turn. That last one in particular, as she is a cross-section of several unfavourable traits as if to create some kind of Voltron of the worst people alive: She’s an atheist caricature as depicted by God’s Not Dead (seriously, it’s that bad), an aggressive liberal to the point where even I wanted her to shut up, and a sociopath that actively points out how she studies other peoples’ emotions on their faces, yet feels none of it herself. Oh, and she’s also an adulterer, which the film spends a fair amount of time justifying as her needing the right man to sort her out. It shouldn’t be possible to write someone that’s this insufferable and not have them collapse under their own mass of hatefulness, but credit to Steven Rogers for pulling it off. Then again, this guy specialises in wish fulfilment borderline-fantasy rom-coms, so maybe he has just been repressing a lot of pet hates all this time.

The script has a very "you clearly didn’t think this through" approach to touchier subjects, to the point of actually being kind of insulting. Emma’s sub-plot involves her being in the back of a police car driven by Anthony Mackie, who is a closeted gay man. The film treats this as a means to show that Emma is more in tune with people’s feelings than she realises, and certainly not as a cheap cop-out to show that this film deals with 'tough' issues. The rationalisation for why he is a "robot" in the film’s words is where it gets insulting and, honestly, it’s the kind of shit I keep hearing from the worst kind of feminists about guys who shut themselves off from their emotions. Thank God they didn’t give this sub-plot to Eleanor, because that combination would have destroyed several planets with the power of sheer dickery.

Then there’s Ruby’s sub-plot, and the fact that she leaves as little a footprint as she does makes this moment feel even worse. Long story short, Bucky discovers that she is suicidal and… wow, the lack of resolution on this thing is maddening. We never get an answer on the whys or even get an impression that Bucky helped her through that; it just exists as a means to add cheap drama, and she hooks up with Hank for literally no given reason other than possibly having a man will make her happy again. As someone who has stared down that long and dark tunnel myself, I can only express sheer contempt and unadulterated rage at the writer, director and everyone else involved in this absolutely atrocious bit of nonsense. Using something like suicidal behaviour in this callous a fashion is, quite possibly, the least “goodwill toward men” thing you can put in a Christmas movie.

And yet, even that isn’t the worst part of it. That worst of it is that, when it comes time for the seriously trite and hokey ending (not to mention making no sense given who the narrator ends up being), there was no point in any of what came before it. Eleanor bringing a stranger along to pretend to be his boyfriend, Hank’s familial and financial woes, Charlotte and Sam’s failing relationship, Emma’s jealousy of her sister’s family life; all we get is the characters pairing up for the sake of convenience, with some extremely half-arsed attempts at enforcing a message of togetherness. At least, I think that’s what this film was going for; quite frankly, with how scatterbrained both the plots and characterisations are, this could have been a recruitment ad for McDonald’s for all I know. Yeah, the blatant bits of McCafe product placement were doing nothing more than making me think that this is following in the footsteps of the more commercialised Christmas films; the latest in a long string of bad decisions that went into the making of this film. It’s seriously sad when I actively want an Australian release of Saving Christmas, just because I know that it’ll be funnier than this.

Be with your loved ones during the festive season, if even they are people that you have only met that day yet have still managed to establish a proper connection with; this is ‘making it easy’ personified and, considering how hectic Christmas is for most families, it rings especially hollow. The film focuses so much on romantic love that it seems to forget that there are other forms of love that exist. What that ends up telling me, along with how uncomfortably they watch each other make out, is that this might be the first Christmas movie to be centred on an inbred family; unless I’m watching a Troma movie, it should never be that easy to come to that conclusion.

The closest this film gets to having a purpose, other than make sure everyone is happy with their partners, is looking at the feeling of nostalgia that comes with Christmas. This is mainly shown through people seeing younger versions of themselves and their family as they reminisce about the times when they weren’t at each other’s throats. Except… that isn’t the case at all. For as much as I’ve called this a dysfunctional family Christmas, all the dysfunction is focused on the individual people; their interactions with each other, by contrast, is about as safe as it is possible to get without just smoothing down the actors’ noses in case of a sudden fall. Not only that, the sense of nostalgia also doesn’t ultimately lead to anything. All it does is let the characters remember the good ol’ days… and that’s it. No deeper meaning to it than that.

All in all, if you actively want to feel miserable these holidays, then this is the film for you. It combines amazingly trite sentiments with insulting lack of forethought when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics like being closeted and suicidal behaviour to be both sickeningly sweet and aggravatingly bitter at the same time. This is more an anti-Christmas film than anything else, already reserving its place in movie marathons alongside such ‘classics’ as The Christmas Shoes, Deck The Halls and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer in a purgatory near you.

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