What do Coopers' Christmas and Unrivaled have in common? Well, besides the presence of director Warren P. Sonoda and producer Sean Buckley, they both feature characters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Unrivaled earned this distinction by being stacked to the rafters with characters who were aggressive jerk-offs. Coopers' Christmas accomplishes this by giving us one glorious holiday with an incredibly dysfunctional family (with more than its fair share of aggressive jerk-offs).
The movie claims to be pieced together from old footage of the Cooper clan on one fateful day in 1985. It is Christmas morning and Gord Cooper (Jason Jones) can barely contain himself. He has just landed himself quite a bargain. In lieu of the 2000 bucks that he was owed by pervy neighbor Bill (Dave Foley), Gord has accepted payment in the form of a used VHS video camera. Gord's wife, Nancy (Samantha Bee) is considerably less jazzed. That money was supposed to pay for one last family vacation to Orlando before the arrival of the newest Cooper, one that Gord denies is even growing in his wife's belly (he just calls her Dom DeLuise because she's put on weight).
The new camera draws mixed reactions from the rest of Gord's family. Older son, Marcus (Nick McKinlay ) couldn't care less about it. He's still getting over his crappy gifts which are definitely not Star Wars figures. Younger son, Teddy ( Dylan Everett) instantly takes to the camera. He decides to film Christmas in a Cinéma vérité style. Giving him plenty to film is the rest of the extended family which descends upon the Cooper household. Nancy's parents (Jayne Eastwood and Jock McLeod) and sisters, Joan (Jenny Parsons) and Bev (Jennifer Baxter), show up with their families in tow.
Joan is accompanied by crotch-punching son Dougie (Gage Munroe), teen daughter Heather (Hayley Lochner) and new African boyfriend Okeke (Onyekachi Ejim). Bev drags along her juvie son Wayne (Steven Yaffee) and racist-sexist-misogynist-drunken lout of a husband Nick (Mike Beaver). Gord's older brother Tim (Peter Keleghan), the suave travel agent is also slated to show. Legend goes, he hooked up with Nancy on her wedding night when Gord had passed out. Suffice it to say, a clusterf*ck ensues.
While that seems like a large cast of characters to keep track of (and it is), their arrival and initial interactions with each other are pretty darn funny. They absolutely nail the feel of any average family in an obligatory social gathering. The awkward silences punctuated by the sharing of too much information, the simmering resentment over past slights, the blatant disregard for someone's personal space...they are all here and accounted for. The discomfort in these scenes is measured, palpable and perversely delicious. Then comes the turning point which changes the course of the rest of the film: everybody gets drunk. Soon the tone becomes nastier, filthier and just plain chaotic. Tim starts coming on to Nancy with the looming implication that he may have sired at least a couple of Gord's kids. Teddy starts paying his cousin Heather to strip for him and Nick, well, Uncle Nick pretty much admits to every sort of sexual offense under the sun in the course of his drunken ramblings.
What you take away from Coopers' Christmas will depend on the sense of humor you bring to it. I far prefer the (relative) subtlety of the first act to the overt brashness of the second and third acts. It's like having a sip of a tasty beverage only to be told that you have to consume the rest of it from a fire hose. At some point, quirkiness gets left in the dust and weirdness for its own sake becomes the goal. I feel like this hurts the characters in the name of helping the comedy. They no longer resemble a family. Instead they turn into one-note caricatures that simply look for new ways to inflict physical and (mostly) mental torture on each other. Did I laugh as the Coopers' house of cards tumbled down? Sure, but not with the frequency I did earlier in the film. By the time the film made a half-hearted stab at the warm fuzzies in its home stretch, I was past caring how things turned out for the characters and that's unfortunate.
While I clearly have issues with the writing of Jason Jones and Mike Beaver, I couldn't be more impressed by their performances in the film. Jones plays Gord as a less abrasive version of the loudmouth persona that he's honed during his time with The Daily Show. He convincingly lets the fake smile slip from his face as he slides into angry sad sack mode. On the other hand, Beaver absolutely steals the show as Uncle Nick. To play someone that vile and disgusting and commanding every scene as you do it is not an easy task. Beaver makes it look effortless and for that he makes me nervous. Samantha Bee plays pregnant by actually being pregnant during the filming. She seems slightly wasted in the role but does what she can with it. The rest of the ensemble jump into their characters with relish and turn out credible performances.
Director Sonoda and writers Jones and Beaver have employed the guise of a Christmas comedy to deliver the tale of a family falling apart with unpredictable and sometimes funny consequences. The biting humor soon starts to gnash its teeth and before you know it, the characters are reduced to bloody chunks. If you can't look away from train wrecks, then this film delivers. I, on the other hand, am only riveted by everything leading up to the point of impact. Then, I have to look away.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. It's kind of silly to discuss the visual presentation of a film that claims to be sourced from 25 year old VHS footage, but I'll give it a shot. As you would expect, the film features a fair amount of intentional grain. I also noticed some occasional moiré. The flat color palette accurately represented the increasingly depressing tone of the film. Altogether this was a perfectly adequate presentation of the film.
The audio was presented in an English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The mix wasn't terribly aggressive but was sufficient for the material at hand. There was plenty of separation in scenes featuring multiple characters talking at once. English SDH subtitles were available.
For a small, independent comedy we actually get a nice slate of extra features. First up, we have an Audio Commentary with Director Warren P. Sonoda and Producer Sean Buckley. Both of the guys are engaging speakers and a pleasure to listen to. They discuss the ins and outs of making an independent film. Additionally, they go into a bit of detail regarding how much improv actually goes on with a film like this.
The other significant extra is a making of featurette titled Coopers' Christmas: Where Genius Collides with Inspiration. This roughly 8 minute long piece starts off with an introduction by producer Sean Buckley before delving into plenty of footage culled from behind the scene shenanigans with the cast and crew. It's fun, funny and irreverent. Clearly everyone had a good time during the making of the film. We close things out with a Trailer.
Coopers' Christmas is every dysfunctional family gathering turned to 11. It starts in a place of honesty and quickly goes off the rails as it aims only to demonstrate just how anti-Christmas it can be. As a result, it is always awkward and shocking but only intermittently funny. Rent It.