Well-intentioned half-baked holiday schlock

Audiences can be forgiven for mistaking “Love the Coopers” for a romantic comedy. Certainly the trailer and marketing all mislead in this direction, and even the opening titles continue in this vein; filled with eye candy that belies the bleakness to come in this dreary family flick, mirrored in the washed-out colors of winter in Pennsylvania.

“Coopers” is a grab-bag of effects, flashbacks, classic film footage, awkward family sing-a-longs and shoehorned bathroom humor that toes the PG-13 line. So many story lines and characters exist that none are developed very well, with some explanations and connections left out entirely in favor of improbable and overlapping dysfunctional family malaise.

But it’s all wrapped up in a nice holiday bow in a truncated third act, culminating in end-credit outtakes of the Cooper family singing.  All problems are solved (or at least dismissed) in mere minutes, since the mess of everyday life is a gift in and of itself.

The Coopers’ mess consists of great-grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin), a widower who wiles away his days in a diner in order to spend some socially acceptable time with young waitress Ruby (an unblinking Amanda Seyfried).

His jovial son Sam (John Goodman) has been married to buttoned-down Charlotte (Diane Keaton) for 40 lately unremarkable years, and they’re having a tough time keeping it together for one last holiday with their kids who have problems of their own.

Recently divorced Hank (Ed Helms) is struggling with dealing with his oafish ex-wife Angie (Alex Borstein), keeping his recent job-loss a secret, and being a single dad to his three kids. Son Charlie (Timothée Chalamet) is bullied when he freezes up around girls. His little brother Bo (Maxwell Simkins) only gets in the way when he tries to help, and sister Madison (Blake Baumgartner) is vulgarly acting out. Hank’s ailing elderly Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) is so far gone she barely remembers him.

Hank’s sister Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is a wannabe playwright and the mistress of her married doctor. She dreads her mother Charlotte’s disapproval so much she entices a solder she met at the airport (played by a vanilla Jake Lacy) to be her fake date to the family festivities.

Charotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is an unmarried and childless life-coach who is perpetually late and jealous of her older sister. Tomei shares the most out-of-left field scene of the movie with Anthony Mackie, from a movie that seems to be little more than a collection of left-field scenes.

Finally, Steve Martin narrates the whole film as the family dog. This last minute reveal is an eye-roller, but at least it explains the lilting manner in which Martin delivers every line.

Two movies coming out this weekend that threaten to deliver all the cheese you’d expect of a Hallmark Special instead cut back on the calories and deliver some fulfilling tales. I’d recommend you see “The 33” or “My All American” over “Love the Coopers” this holiday season.

106 minutes 

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality 

Director: Jessie Nelson

Writer: Steven Rogers (screenplay) 

Starring: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Anthony Mackie

Rich Bonaduce is Vice President of the Utah Film Critics Association, co-host of “Critical Mass,” a Salt Lake-based movie-review show, and a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com. Read more of his reviews at thereelplace.com.