Dir. Jessie Nelson (2015)
Four generations of the dysfunctional Cooper family gather together to celebrate Christmas dinner.
Note: My Christmas Day reviews (of which there has been only one before this one) are not reviews, per se. Sure, I talk a little about the movie that I've watched, and I give a brief overview the way I do with every film. But these reviews are more about love, life, and the holidays, and I hope it serves to remind you, as Christmas does me, that there's more to life than blood, guts, and dismemberment.
Last year, I used the final day of our 13 Days of Christmas to celebrate a true holiday classic, a heartwarming story about love that never fails to make me cry. Love Actually is one of my favorite reviews that I've ever written, because not only do I love the film itself, but I love the fact that, for one day, I was able to put aside the bloodshed and the mayhem and write about something I genuinely believe in with all my heart. In the same vein, we're going to close this holiday season with a film that is new to me and one that carries with it the same themes of love, family, and hope for a better tomorrow, a film that speaks to the potential for new beginnings after the monotonies of life have threatened to wear away at the foundations of family relations. I'm talking about a fantastic Christmas movie that I somehow missed, Love the Coopers. This film was suggested by a brilliant and amazing friend of the site, and it's an excellent film to close out our 13 Days of Christmas.
Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are an older married couple who are gathering their children together for the holidays. The pair are getting a divorce, with Sam promising to spend one last Christmas under the same roof so that the family can enjoy the holidays before learning their parents are getting a divorce. Intertwined with their story are the lives of their family: the divorced son Hank (Ed Helms), who is recently unemployed and desperately looking for work so that Christmas won't be ruined; the black sheep daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), who seeks companionship from a soldier about to go on deployment; Charlotte's sister Emma (Marisa Tomei), who laments not having her own family; and grandfather Bucky (Alan Arkin), who has a special relationship with a young waitress (Amanda Seyfried) who is seeking to escape from her troubled past. The family is coming together for Christmas dinner, each story coalescing into a near perfect picture of real family life that is always the most stretched to its limits during the holidays.
Christmas movies are, by their very nature, happy affairs. Sure, there's generally some strife, always and forever resolved by the final frames of the film to create a lovely uplifting story to prevent people from killing themselves on Christmas. There may be funny moments, or charming bits of beauty that bring a tear to your eye in an effort to remind people of the joy of the season. But rarely is it ever so real. The relationship between Charlotte and Sam is real, a life lived together that appears to be at its end as the strains of the years finally become too much to bear. Emma's lack of her own family clouds her realization that she does have one, a feeling that so many share. The alienation felt by Eleanor, who never seems to be able to do anything right and dreads going home for the holidays lest she be again subjected to the judgment of her elders. All of these feelings encompass Christmas for so many people, and while a lot of Christmas movies comment on them briefly, Love the Coopers does so in an incredibly realistic and self-analyzing way. It is the film's strength, this ability to encapsulate real feelings into these unreal lives, preventing the film from ever seeming one-note or like it's aimed at one particular experience.
It is the experience of life that the film critiques. It is the feeling of not being good enough, the cravings created through loneliness, the isolation of having terrible life events happen at the worst possible moment. It's easy to look at a film like Love Actually, where everyone seems to be getting on fairly well despite their various circumstances, as a "realistic" movie, and it certainly is, to be fair. Love the Coopers goes deeper, however, giving the audience a window into the lives that they may already be living in a way that is both empathetic and hopeful. That is the real value that the film brings, that ability to acknowledge reality while reminding its audience that things don't always turn out so badly, and that even when they don't (and aren't going to) go as planned, there's a beauty in that as well. Things don't always have to be happy, but the potential for happiness is never absent.
Each person you see on the street is an entire life lived. It's a life made of heartbreak and trauma, pride and bliss, joy and sadness. Each person is, quite literally, the duality of emotion and experience, and while some may wear one hat more often than the other, they are present in every living human being. It's easy to forget that, wrapped up in our own lives as we so often are at this time of year. We watch these movies to uplift us, to bring us joy in a world that isn't always so joyful. By giving us an opportunity to explore the bright side of real experiences, Love the Coopers allows us to explore those same potentials within ourselves, becoming just as much a human movie as a Christmas movie. Even as someone who is a generally positive person, always looking for the silver lining behind whatever stormclouds I may be experiencing, it's sometimes nice to get a reminder that even the hardest days end, and that a lifetime of memories will always be there to guide you home.
For just a moment, set aside the hardcore facade that you've built for yourself as a horror movie fan and take a minute to just appreciate life and everything that goes with it. Appreciate the sadness for what it is, an opportunity to learn and improve. Appreciate the joy likewise, as it provides you a respite from whatever life has been throwing at you. Appreciate your family, or at least any who are worthy of your appreciation, because they are going through life with you. Appreciate friends, who are there for you when you need, who lift you up when you're down or sacrifice their own happiness temporarily to share your sadness or grief. And finally, appreciate the opportunity, every year, to put aside all of the trauma and frustrations from the past year and look forward to a potentially brighter tomorrow. Because no matter how hard things may be, whether you're going through a death in the family, a divorce, frustrations at your job, or even worse, things can always get better. Sometimes it's nice to have that reminder.
Who this movie is for: Christmas movie lovers, Family movie fans, Naughty dogs
Bottom line: Love the Coopers is a fantastic Christmas movie, one that I can't believe escaped my attention until now. It's got a phenomenal cast, heartwarming and funny writing, and is an overall feel-good movie that examines the realities in each of our lives while providing hope for the future. Whether you're the person who is alienated from their family, always a disappointment and never feeling like you've lived up to expectations, or you're in a relationship that just hasn't worked out the way you had hoped, Love the Coopers allows you to take a break from that and realize that all of your situations might, just might, turn out okay in the end. If you're looking for a feel-good movie to ring in Christmas Day, I would definitely recommend giving this one a look. For me, it'll be on my yearly rotation, and I think there's a good chance that it wind up on yours as well.
On a side note, and to everyone who reads my site: Christmas is a time for love. It doesn't need to be familial love, though it often is, and it doesn't need to be a significant other, because that's not always the case either. From the both of us at The Horror Revolution, we love you. Yes, you, person reading this. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what on Earth you're doing here instead of celebrating Christmas Day with those closest to you, we love you, and we wish for you nothing but the best in the coming year. I appreciate each and every one of you for reading, and no matter what else may be going on in your life, I hope that your holiday season brings you nothing but joy. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!