The SLING family is celebrating Christmas by arguing over our favorite seasonal movies. Isn’t that what all families do around the holiday? No? Must just be us, then. Following our Elf vs. Home Alone debate, today is Love the Coopers (2015) versus The Family Stone (2005). Both films found dedicated audiences later through television broadcasts, but does one outshine the other?
Janine Schaults: Families. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them – especially during the holidays. Two movies about quirky sets of relatives – both headed up by Diane Keaton, the patron saint of moms who wear eccentric outfits and only have two parental settings: whimsical and overbearing – failed to win over critics, but each built a rabid set of fans who cherish these underrated classics. The pair of movies contains striking similarities: Both bring together extended family members – each with a strong, idiosyncratic personality – for Christmas dinner while the matriarch struggles to keep a life-altering secret under wraps. Both share the same producer in Michael London and both manage to use food accidentally knocked over on the floor as a metaphor for the haphazard way these people lead their lives. However, there’s definitely one family I’d rather gather with on the most magical night of the year. And it’s the one with the cuddly dog.
Peyton Lombardo: I know man’s best friend isn’t tipping the scales, especially with your allergy to pet hair. So, what about Love The Coopers grabbed your heart?
JS: We’re introduced to the Coopers through the consoling narration of Steve Martin. The comedian-turned-actor-turned-author-turned-banjo player could read the phone book and it would probably sound profound. So, while the voice-over is actually the family’s devoted dog Rags telling the story of his keepers’ Christmas, the treacly gimmick gives us enough clues about what makes these people tick. It helps us relate to them and better understand their interactions with each other. Eldest daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) has a huge chip on her shoulder, which we learn through flashback mostly stems from her former fiance cheating on her. This betrayal feeds her reluctance to open her heart to a new, healthy relationship and prompts her decision to bring home a stranger (Jake Lacy) she meets in the airport just to avoid questions about her failing love life.
The Family Stone paints with broad strokes and the Stone clan’s motivations are confusing. Amy (Rachel McAdams) seems like a miserable person who treats Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) just brutally when older brother Everett (Dermont Mulroney) brings her home to meet the family before proposing. Meredith may be persnickety and far too goal-oriented for this group and clearly not the best fit for Everett, but why the aggressive smear job?
PL: I have to admit: the Family Stone clan does not make a good first impression. You’re right in that their motives are beyond confusing. In the battle of the Stone family vs. Meredith, I was baffled why they were so hesitant and cold towards Meredith, especially since this is most of the family’s first time meeting her. Sure she’s a New York City gal and a bit addicted to her job (who isn’t in the Big Apple?), but I struggled to see why she was such a monster. We learn that Amy did previously meet Meredith for dinner, so my only inclination is that this offscreen get-together was worse than the movie portrayed it. But seriously, any attempt Meredith makes at mingling with the family is met with disgust and disapproval. I mean, why was Sybil so upset that Meredith didn’t know to constantly keep the coffee pot filled? These unfair and unrealistic expectations by the Stones frustrated me throughout the movie, but I have to admit that it ended up making for a more dramatic and more satisfying ending.
JS: I loathe mocking schmaltzy Christmas movies because that’s usually what I’m signing up for when I press play. Give me all the holiday feels! But, I just hated these people in The Family Stone. It was painful to be around them, which only made the big reveal at the end feel manipulative. And I say big reveal because that’s what it is supposed to feel like despite the trail of overwrought crumbs fed to us throughout the movie’s 104-minute running time. For those who don't mind spoilers, here goes: Keaton’s character dies off-screen at the end from breast cancer. We revisit the family at Christmas a year later to find her missing from the bittersweet festivities. And I sobbed. Who wouldn’t? Only a Grinch with a heart 18 sizes too small wouldn’t have sympathy for the situation. And yet, I felt duped. It’s not a good look for a movie to have to resort to killing off a character to elicit affection for the others.
I also periodically bawled during Love The Coopers, but that stemmed from feeling connected to the family and seeing sparks of my own changing roles as daughter, child, unmarried adult, etc., reflected in their foibles. When Bucky (Alan Arkin) spies his two grown daughters and son and the families they’ve created making due in a hospital cafeteria after he suffers a medical episode during dinner, he says aloud to us, to the orderly standing next to him, even to the universe itself: “Such a fuss, when everything we want is right in front of us the whole time…” What a simple, yet powerful message.
PL: I was with you about originally thinking the Stone family was a bit contrived. But as I got to know them better throughout the film, I realized that they are indeed just a quirky family, and there shouldn’t be anything necessarily wrong with that. This is the battle of the quirky families after all, and the Stone family more than fits the bill.
JS: Dad rock rules in Love the Coopers and Christmas never sounded so cozily acoustic. From Sting to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss to Bob Dylan and Fleet Foxes, even the tunes rarely associated with Santa and sugar plums take on a holy glow. John Goodman on harmonica, Ed Helms on guitar and Arkin on ukelele lead the Cooper pack in an informal sing-along of traditional carols ‘round the twinkling tree. It’s a totally pure moment – the kind only people who are absolutely comfortable with each other can muster. Like family.
PL: I’m not one to admit when I’m wrong, but you might just have me convinced that Love the Coopers outshines The Family Stone. That may not be a complete fault of The Family Stone, though: The two movies came out a full decade apart, and it’s clear to see the latter is already a tad outdated (Meredith’s truly cingeworthy views on homosexuality was one of the few times I didn’t feel sorry for her). This film may very well have not survived a release past 2005, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth revisiting. The Family Stone may have some heartwarming moments in the end, but Love the Coopers is pure fun throughout. On a very, very rare occasion, (and in the spirit of the season), I concede this holiday movie debate.
Watch Love the Coopers on-demand on AMC. The Family Stone is available to rent on-demand.