I’m not usually one for pure holiday films. My experience in life has rarely included those “perfect” family get-togethers that feature heavily in many movies. Coopers doesn’t bother to sugarcoat the truth… families, however close they may be, are filled with secret hurts, divisiveness, and strains. That is simply life.
I really give director Nelson (I Am Sam) and writer Rogers (Kate & Leopold) credit for creating both a loving and honest look at family in this outing. He also takes his time setting up the conflicts and building the characters rather than just throwing everyone together in the first 10 minutes. The framing feels a bit forced, but it adds a lightness to the situations which do get a little tense at times. But, ultimately, for all the positives it is cowardly in its final moments, unwilling to take a couple of the stories where they should have naturally gone. It turns what could have been a really kinda great movie into an OK bit of entertainment.
The cast is a wonderful group of talent, each getting to trot out some of their best and signature characters. The large but vulnerable John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), the bizarre June Squibb (I’ll See You in My Dreams), the scattered Ed Helms (The Lorax), or the strong, sexy mess of Olivia Wilde (The Lazarus Effect). This familiarity doesn’t lessen their impact… in fact, in a weird way, it makes them familiar, like family.
But there are a couple standouts, even among the familiarity. Alan Arkin (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) works hard as the sensitive but somewhat ignored older man. He has a great role and storyline opposite Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2), but one that is never fully realized for either of them . And opposite the sweetly broken Marisa Tomei (Captain America: Civil War), Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man), creates a wholly new character that is very effective and memorable.
This isn’t a film you’re likely to throw in every year at the holidays. It is more one you’ll see, chuckle, and move on. It is entertaining and the work in it is really quite good. If it had only had the Christmas balls to go where they’d first aimed, it might have been just that little bit better.