‘Love the Coopers’
Director: J
essie Nelson
Stars: Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Love the Coopers” isn’t just a Christmas movie; it’s an ensemble Christmas movie. As such has as much in common with “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “The Ref” as the soulless likes of “New Year’s Day” and “Valentine’s Day,” which round up stars of all castes to plow through some tossed-off, wan episodes en route to a fuzzy climax. The bar is set so low that “Coopers” can occasionally seem like an outright godsend. There are actual characters actually wrassling with actual problems and actual anxieties. That that’s shocking shows how far down we’ve gone.

In actuality, “Coopers” is a seriously mixed bag, filled with the occasional lump of coal. It’s ill-conceived and cloying one second, bracingly honest the next, simply pleasantly watchable the moment after that. It’s as scattershot as its big cast, who fill out a family about to congregate for a doubtless bitch-tastic Christmas Eve. But that doesn’t happen until the climax, and before then we get to see how unhappy everyone is even before they’re grouped en masse. Parents Diane Keaton and John Goodman are about to split. Daughter Olivia Wilde is eternally single, in part because she’s sleeping with a married man. Son Ed Helms is divorced and newly unemployed, and from a measly family photographer job. Keaton’s spinster sister, Marisa Tomei, is busted shoplifting in the opening minutes. Granddad Alan Arkin quietly pines for a young waitress (Amanda Seyfried), who’s the last person on earth he feels he can talk to.

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This all sounds like a downer, but “Coopers” tries to play it as cute and easy viewing, if with a grumpy edge that’s like a severely sanded-down version of Jodie Foster’s sublimely cranky Thanksgiving romp “Home for the Holidays.” Director Jessie Nelson, who made "I am Sam," one of the most misdirected films ever made, occasionally makes herself known through leftfield indulgenes like the occasional inexplicable cheap CGI effect; when Wilde’s character remembers a time when she was shattered by an old lover cheating on her, she actually turns into a piece of ice that then breaks. Each person gets their own tidy little storyline pre-dinner, Neil Simon-style. In the most filled-in and enjoyable thread, outspokenly lefty Wilde winds up hanging with an outspokenly righty soldier and evolution-denier played by Jake Lacy, their differences fueling friction and flirtation in equal measure.

Still, its characters only marginally feel like broad types, or they’re at least filled in by a strong cast. Melancholy and failure hang over all of the holiday cheer, from the many broken relationships to aspirations left unfulfilled. Their problems can’t be easily solved — until screenwriter Steven Rogers (of, of all things, “Stepmom”) starts easily solving almost all of them, wrapping things up in neat bows. He also lets a few others stay frayed, its less lucky characters at best finding temporary solace amidst their never-realized dreams. It's more honest about and sensitive to its characters' plight than another dysfunctional X-mas dramedy with Diane Keaton as the matriarch, "The Family Stone." It’s all a bittersweet bummer — but also one that can’t resist things like easy swearing-kid jokes, easier funny old person jokes (hello, June Squibb!) and lots and lots of dog humor. That is to say it has something, unfortunately, for everyone.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge