Wednesday, 18 November 2015

On the Road: Family time

Love the Coopers [UK title: Christmas With the Coopers]
dir Jessie Nelson; with Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Alan Arkin 15/US ***.
Marketed as a wacky holiday comedy, it's rather surprising that this film strikes a more serious tone right from the start, with Steve Martin's warm, wry narration introducing us to each member of the sprawling Cooper clan as they reluctantly approach a Christmas Eve dinner together. There are plenty of hilarious moments along the way, but the issues each of these people are dealing with are anything but flippant: this is a film about how life is only very rarely like the happy-glowing images we surround ourselves with at the holidays. And things are beefed up by the powerhouse cast swirling around the terrific Keaton and Goodman in the central roles as a couple at the end of their tether after 40 years of marriage. Olivia Wilde and Ed Helms have strong scenes as their conflicted children, Arkin finds some new nuances in his usual patriarchal role, Marisa Tomei gets the film's most complex role as Keaton's drifting sister. With the multistrand approach, the film feels eerily similar to Love Actually, except with everyone directly related to each other (plus outsiders nicely underplayed by Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie and Jake Lacy). And the large cast kind of spreads the depth around between them, never quite pushing any single character too far. But there's something to engage with in each of them, and the nostalgic emotional surge is meaningful and thankfully not overly sentimental.

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I'm still out in California for a few more days - hope to catch a couple of films this weekend, including Secret in Their Eyes (a remake of a favourite film, but the top-notch cast makes it look unmissable) and The Night Before (which looks like it might be mindless fun).

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