With just two films to her name across the past two decades, filmmaker Jessie Nelson now returns with her third, the festive comedy Christmas with the Coopers. Though a flawed piece, there’s enough about this enchanting endeavour to suggest it would be a shame if we had to wait another ten years for Nelson’s fourth picture. Though if she were to release another Christmas ensemble piece, a decade wouldn’t be long enough.
Like any ensemble piece, Christmas with the Coopers comes equipped with a complex, convoluted narrative that seeks in covering so much ground, across the respective situations of a myriad of characters, but ultimately ends up doing none of them justice thanks to the constant and careless weaving in and out of narrative. But a brief summary is this: the Coopers are spread across four generations, with Bucky (Alan Arkin) overseeing the calamities that ensue. He has a romance of his own, falling, unwittingly, for the waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried).
Meanwhile his daughter Emma (Marisa Tomei) finds herself in the backseat of Officer Williams’ (Anthony Mackie) cop car, after caught shoplifting, while his other offspring Charlotte (Diane Keaton) is suffering in what appears to be a loveless marriage to Sam (John Goodman). Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is going through a divorce of his own, while for his sister Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), it seems a new romance could be on the cards, when she meets soldier Joe (Jake Lacy) at the airport. There are other characters with stories too, but that’s about as much as we can be bothered to tell you.
It’s a shame we deviate away from the more interesting stories (such as those concerning Bucky and Ruby, or when exploring the difficulties in maintaining a lifelong marriage for Charlotte and Sam) – and instead delve needlessly into the life of Hank’s son, caught up in a cliched teenage romance. This film is in dying need of some simplicity, and perhaps had we focused primarily on certain plot points, the feature would have benefited. Instead the one character we do feel any emotion towards, is the pet dog. For we embody that little creature, always feeling detached, watching from afar, and looking on, feeling as bemused as he looks.
But still, there is an endearing tone and spirit to this piece, and, for use of a better word, it all feels rather Christmassy, capturing the frivolity and festivity of this genre, in a way which is uncynical, if somewhat mawkish. The music helps establish that tone however, with a wonderful soundtrack consisting of the likes of Nina Simone and Bob Dylan. Though it is perplexing as to why the latter gave his permission for his work to be used within this title. At least for the former we know it wasn’t exactly her choice.