The fair to middling Yuletide yarn “Love the Coopers” (** OUT OF ****), about a dysfunctional family and their dog during a snowy Christmas in Pittsburgh, wrecks the halls rather than decks them. Like “The Family Stone” and Thanksgiving themed “Home for the Holidays,” this outing depicts the various trials and tribulations that four generations of a family face as they assemble for their ritualistic Christmas Eve dinner. “Corrina, Corrina” director Jessie Nelson and “Stepmom” scenarist Steven Rogers supply soap opera rather than holiday hilarity in this contrived PG-13 rated hokum that shares more in common with a Lifetime movie than a Hallmark movie. Literally, everybody in “Love the Coopers” is concealing something, lying about something, and/or hating somebody else. A top-drawer ensemble cast that shouldn’t be squandering its considerable talents for such a contrived exercise in tedium makes this bittersweet potboiler more tolerable than it has any right. Diane Keaton and John Goodman play the long-suffering couple that sponsors this disastrous dinner. Keaton appears in her element as a Martha Stewart housewife who has more than enough time to lavish on this supper. After all, she appeared in the similarly minded “Family Stone.” For a change, heavyset John Goodman looms front and center as her husband for a change rather than as an eccentric bystander on the periphery. Goodman’s presence reminds us that not all Hollywood husbands need look either trim and slim like Michael Douglas or charismatic like Brad Pitt. Naturally, obstacles galore ensue as the various couples encounter the problems in their lives and struggle to triumph over them. No matter how robust the cast is, everybody is inevitably upstaged by a large mixed breed dog named Rags that steals the show in the final frame with the surprise of all surprises.
Charlotte (Diane Keaton of “Anne Hall”) and Sam Cooper (John Goodman of “The Big Lebowski”) have been married for 40 years. They have a grown-up son, Hank (Ed Helms of “The Hangover”), with a family of his own, while their adult daughter, Eleanor (ravishing Olivia Wilde of “Cowboys and Aliens”), has found neither love nor success as a playwright. Eleanor has just flown back home, and she is loitering at the local airport terminal because she doesn’t want to face her folks. Eleanor and her mom rub each other the wrong way, and the former doesn’t approve of the patronizing way the latter treats her. Eleanor is beginning to feel the burden of being single. Since her fiancée cheated on her, she has been leery of the opposite sex, but she still craves affection. At the airport, she comes across a soldier on leave, Charlie (Jake Lacy of “Obvious Child”), whose flight has been grounded because of inclement weather. Eleanor and Jake have a series of encounters and eventually get chummy. Rather than face her mom as a single daughter, Eleanor invites Jake to accompany her to her parents’ holiday dinner and masquerade as her fiancé. Charlotte’s widowed father, Bucky (Alan Arkin of “Argo”), has retired and frequents a local diner where he has developed a platonic friendship with a young waitress, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried of “Momma Mia”), who may have tried to slash her wrist at some time in the past. Bucky has been cultivating Ruby’s appreciation of movies with Hollywood classics like Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and the Judy Holliday comedy “Born Yesterday.” Meantime, an even more obnoxious character lingers on the sidelines in the person of Charlotte’s jealous younger sister Emma (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei of “My Cousin Vinny”) who has always clashed with her sister. Emma remains single and self-absorbed. She carries drama around with her like luggage.
Conventional as this set-up appears with the meal as the finale, more is going on than initially than meets the eye. Charlotte and Sam plan to use the Christmas dinner to announce their imminent divorce. Director Jessie Nelson and scenarist Steven Rogers hint, but never outright explain what prompted Charlotte and Sam’s martial meltdown. Mind you, we catch a glimpse of their adorable second daughter who didn’t survive infancy. Presumably, her demise has taken a toll on Charlotte’s life and ruined her happiness. Sam wants to embark on a trip to Africa with her that they had planned decades ago. Sadly, Charlotte has forsaken her adventurous spirit. Meantime, Hank and his estranged wife Angie (Alex Borstein of “Ted”) squabble about their three children, a lusty teenage son named Charlie (Timothée Chalamet of “Interstellar”), his younger brother Bo (Maxwell Simkins of “And So It Goes”), and their 5-year old sister, Madison (newcomer Blake Baumgartner) who spouts the crude phrase “You’re such a dick.” Of course, Madison provides the comic relief because everybody is appalled by her tactless diction. Furthermore, Hank has been replaced as a Sears’ portrait photographer by automation. Worse, he hasn’t informed anybody that he is no longer employed! Aside from Eleanor’s antics, Emma faces the worst predicament of her life. She swallows a brooch at a jewelry store, and the store detective nabs her. Pittsburgh policeman, Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie of “Marvels’ Avengers”), claps Emma in cuffs and transports her to jail. During the drive, Emma bonds with Officer Williams, and he reveals that not only is he gay, but he also is terribly lonely. Eventually, the Cooper dinner turns into a family feud. Everybody is at each other’s throats when suddenly Bucky collapses from a stroke. The family rushes their paterfamilias to the emergency room. Fortunately, Bucky doesn’t kick the bucket, and the family manages to resolve their differences.
Virtually every character in “Love the Coopers” is objectionable. Moreover, the filmmakers have given us too many characters to keep track of and furnished too few details about some. The biggest surprise is that “Love the Coopers” is narrated from the perspective of Charlotte and Sam’s Saint Bernard named Rags. Although it is a clever conceit, no dog could know as much as this omniscient narrator knows. Holiday movies are a dime-a-dozen, but “Love the Coopers” isn’t worth a dime.