Love the Coopers: a merry Xmas film

You can’t regift family

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future rear their heads as four generations of the Cooper clan gathering under the same roof to celebrate an ultimate Christmas in the endearing Love The Coopers.  And, when the Coopers come together on Christmas Eve, everything comes apart.

If you enjoyed Love Actually, make sure to see Love The Coopers, a heartwarming and soulful film that shows how compassion heals broken relationships.  It’s not only a film about family, but one that shows how love can be found under the most unusual and unexpected circumstances, and how new-found love inspires jaded love to bloom.


Jessie Nelson

Director Jessie Nelson during the filming of Love The Coopers

“The Coopers want to get through the night without anybody in the family knowing what’s really going on (in their individual lives), and hopefully buying the idealized version of themselves that they are all presenting,” says Director Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam), who directed the film from an original screenplay by Steven Rogers (Stepmom).

“What they do get is much better – truth, real connection and intimacy.  It’s all those ghosts of Christmases past that visit us through memory. We bring so many memories to the holidays. We’re either worrying about the past or projecting our fears of the future.  We’re often not in the moment. I think everyone will see the insanity of their own family in this film!”

Nothing sets up comedy and tension better than a story told in compressed time.

“This one is complicated and messy,” says Nelson. “It’s set around this one day that changes everything, Christmas Eve. Each member of the Cooper family is at a turning point in their lives on this day – it all felt real to me, not glossed over.  They are all trying to present a version of themselves that has nothing to do with what’s really going on inside them.”

Michael London4

Producer Michael London

Producer Michael London (The Family Stone) says Nelson fell in love with the Coopers from the moment she read Steven Rogers’ original script.

“They became family to her and she brought them to life as if she were related to all of them,” he says. “She wanted the humor to always come out of character. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but they always come from something emotionally real that’s happening between the characters.  It was especially important to Jessie that each has an inner life we can feel on screen.  And there is an ongoing element having to do with memory—both memories of childhood and holiday memories.  Working with Cinematographer Elliot Davis, Jessie wove flashbacks into the current story so that we feel what’s happening in the moment and the weight of each character’s past. It’s beautifully done and a very distinctive element of the film.”

London says he is drawn to projects like Love the Coopers and The Family Stone because “I love stories about families – the joys of being in a family, especially the way we all struggle to make our families fit the image in our minds of what they should be.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…when the pressure to have the perfect family is bigger than ever. That creates a lot of comedy when things go wrong, which they inevitably do under all that pressure.  But it also leads to a lot of genuine emotion if people are able to get past their differences and find a way to connect.”

Steven Rogers’

Screenwriter Steven Rogers

Much of the movie really centers on “time,” says screenwriter Steven Rogers. “People spend a lot of time dwelling on the past or being upset about the past, whether it is something someone else did or something they did or worrying about the future, and they miss out on the present. It’s very generational. When you’re younger, you’re trying so hard to make something of yourself.  As you get older, you realize what’s important is to be in the moment.”

Example: Rogers loves the unrequited feelings the older widower Bucky (Alan Arkin) character has for the young waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), again because of time and memory – he misses his wife and Ruby reminds him of her in many ways, but he also cares for Ruby in her own right.

It is Arkin’s character Bucky who, ironically, sums up the absurdity of our nature at the holidays:

Arkin loved the script because he felt it “was so literate, the characters so rich.” With Nelson, he says he made a friend forever and says everyone thought of her as the mother of this family project.

Arkin describes Bucky as a former teacher who loved his work, his students and teaching. He’s crazy about Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) and enjoys mentoring her. “He likes to think of himself as a pater familias. I think…in some vague way she reminds him of his wife who is gone. She’s a beautiful thorn in his side until he finds out she’s going to leave and that drives him bananas.”

Of Ruby, Amanda Seyfried says her character has had a tough life. She befriends Bucky who, twice a day, comes to the diner where she works as a waitress. “They really hit it off, two souls that are a little bit lost,” she says, adding that she and Arkin became close friends in real life. These two characters, she notes, are people “trying to find a piece of themselves that they feel they are missing.”

Bucky is the father of Diane Keaton’s character Charlotte Cooper and her sister Emma (played by Marisa Tomei).

London says Keaton became involved in the production “early, as both an actress and an executive producer. Diane is the linchpin of the Cooper family and the linchpin of our cast,” he notes.

“When you have an actress of Diane’s caliber in the film, it’s much easier to build a great cast. John Goodman was the next key piece. He brings an earthiness and humor to the role of Sam that complements Diane. He also has a wonderful paternal quality. Who wouldn’t want John Goodman to be their dad?  And in Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde and Ed Helms, we get actors who are adept at comedy but also at creating real people on screen.  Amanda Seyfried and Anthony Mackie’s characters are the outsiders who get swept into the Cooper clan’s adventures during the course of Christmas Eve. They both brought a lot of heart to their performances.  And Jake Lacy nearly steals the movie as the fake boyfriend Olivia Wilde’s character drags home to meet the family.”

So what drew Keaton to the project?

“I thought it was a sweet story,” she says. “I am a big family person and I loved how the imperfection of this family is what today’s families are all about.  Including mine.  Plus to work with Jessie Nelson again was a plus.” .

Indeed for Keaton it was the lure of how the holidays bring out the joy and chaos in most families:

“It is a time of togetherness,” Keaton adds. “Growing up, my parents took us on road trips.  We loved to gather in the kitchen and mom would sing songs and we would chime in.  We weren’t fancy and frankly neither are the Coopers.”

Olivia Wilde, who plays Hank’s sister Eleanor, loved the script as well. “I was really taken by how sentimental the script made me feel.  I laughed, of course, but I got really weepy by the end,” she says. “Eleanor is the wayward, messy, emotional sort of chaotic child who hasn’t gotten married, and hasn’t really achieved success. Eleanor has a kind of arrested development. She was left by her fiancé and she feels kind of worthless.”

Wilde continues: “And the idea of playing the daughter of John and Diane was too irresistible. Plus, I met Jessie and we had such a lovely conversation – it was honestly Jessie who made me want to do the film (in the end).”

In developing the script, it was most important for Nelson that even though there is a lot of tension in the family relationships that you could really feel sympathy for everyone’s side of the story:  “No one is wrong,” notes Nelson. “Eleanor is right, her mother does worry too much about her.  And Charlotte is right, her daughter is going through something that would make any mother worry.  Sam is right, his marriage has gotten complacent and they need to shake it up and focus more on each other.  And Charlotte is right, their kids are going through a hard time and might really need a little help right now.”  It’s truly an exploration of families tolerating each other’s differences.

Keaton agrees.

“Tolerance. Plenty of laughter and cheer…and,” she adds, “that you can’t regift family.”