(Christmas) Cards on the table: I’ve got a sentimental streak a mile wide and it’s particularly attuned to Christmastime. You might have assumed from the trailer and marketing that this is a frothy, kooky slapstick comedy but it’s really not. There are strong echoes of Ron Howard’s 1989 classic “Parenthood” but director Jessie Nelson and screenwriter Steven Rogers settle on a more melancholy and wistfully poignant tone for this generational family drama. It’s all expertly emotive, touching stuff. What? No, you’re crying. Shut up.
Sam and Charlotte Cooper (John Goodman and Diane Keaton) are planning one last big family Christmas before ending their 40-year-long marriage. As their children and grandchildren make their way home for the holidays, unexpected encounters and unlikely events provide some perspective on the ghosts of Christmases past and present.
Although he’s not involved in the production at all, “Christmas With The Coopers” (or “Love, The Coopers” as it’s known elsewhere) takes a page or two from the Gary Marshall playbook for this festive comedy drama. However, where the schmaltzy “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve” offered a cavalcade of showy star name cameos , “Christmas With The Coopers” anchors the drama and comedy with three great screen veterans: Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Alan Arkin. There are some clever touches as the film shows remembrances past encroaching on the present day and the theme of lives lived and lives yet to live is a strong one as each of the children, grandchildren and even parents of Sam and Charlotte strive for happiness and to escape or embrace the past in the run up to the grand family feast.
There’s a quietly absorbing quality to the film, which draws you in thanks to the easy going performances of the excellent cast. Some story threads are more successful than others, with Ed Helms and Alex Borstein shouldering the most ill-defined story but others sparkle like fairy lights, such as Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacey’s airport encounter or Alan Arkin and Amanda Seyfried in the diner.
Ultimately, it’s sentimental as Hell and if you’ve got a bit of Grinch in you at this time of year the film might grate rather than ingratiate – especially when it comes to the identity of the narrator played by Steve Martin – but if it strikes you just right, this will get you right in the family feels. It may look and feel a little like a particularly lavish and star-studded Hallmark Christmas special but it’s packed with great performances, a surprising amount of real drama and a wishful warmth that’s hard to genuinely resist.