Christmas with the Coopers (3 stars)

Christmas with the Coopers

Sentimental seasonal dramedy elevated by an all-star ensemble

Movies that mine the tensions of family holiday-season reunions, first for laughs and then life lessons, have become a nausea-inducing tradition akin to Christmas overindulgence. From the not-particularly-promising team of helmer Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) and writer Steven Rogers (PS I Love You) comes a bulging commercial ensemble piece that takes such paragons of festive mediocrity as The Family Stone, Christmas with the Kranks, Surviving Christmas and Love Actually and mashes them into a surprisingly palatable blend.

It starts promisingly with a montage of seasonal disillusionment – a stony-faced man spraying fake snow on trees, the mass production of biscuits and cakes in a cold factory, a surfeit of joyless, commuting Santas. Moreover, the clan in question begin in disarray, as family figureheads Charlotte and Sam (Diane Keaton and John Goodman) teeter on the brink of separation, Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is arrested shoplifting a present selected in spite, while the other Coopers – including Ed Helms’s divorced, unemployed Hank and Olivia Wilde’s singleton playwright Eleanor – are similarly down-in-the-dumps.

Steve Martin’s overzealously avuncular narration cloyingly, and totally unnecessarily, spells out the emotions at play. If the prospect of a forced, ostensibly cockle-warming coming-together looms rather too large, then the engaging, cross-generational cast (which also includes Alan Arkin, Amanda Seyfried and June Squibb) bring nuance, sincerity and great timing and there’s enough irreverence and farce to offset the trite conclusions, cringing pronouncements (‘You’re the grand piano’) and shameless contrivance. And, despite the familiarity of their airport meet-cute, the likeable Wilde and her soldier love-interest Jake Lacy manage to drag things back to something resembling believability.

Those for whom Christmas brings nowt but joy may lap-up the goodwill overload, awards-season enthusiasts will savour the wealth of talent on display, while true cynics will be better served by a repeat viewing of Bad Santa. Unambitious, aggressively well-intentioned, and more interested in movie clichés than human truths, Nelson’s latest is as sweet and, occasionally, as stressful as Christmas Day itself.

General release from Tue 1 Dec.

Christmas with the Coopers

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • 1h 47min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jessie Nelson
  • Written by: Steven Rogers
  • Cast: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms
  • UK release: 1 December 2015

As the Cooper family comes together for Christmas, figureheads Charlotte (Keaton) and Sam (Goodman) are on the brink of separation and Charlotte's sister Emma (Tomei) is arrested for shoplifting. Despite the cloying narration and clichéd story, there's enough irreverence and farce to offset the trite conclusions, cringing…