Anchor Bay // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // December 2nd, 2010
"You don't wanna piss off God on his baby boy's birthday."
Wisely re-titled Coopers' Christmas for its DVD release, having originally been released as Coopers' Camera, the film is loosely based on the home movies of co-writer and star Mike Beaver, and could just be a future holiday favorite for those tired of the usual Christmas fare.
December 25th, 1985. In exchange for the $2000 he is owed, Gord Cooper (Jason Jones (The Daily Show) accepts a "barely used" VHS camera from his neighbor, Bill Madison (Dave Foley, Sky High).
Though his wife, Nancy (Samantha Bee (The Daily Show), is displeased with Gord's deal -- she had plans to spend the $2000 on a trip to Disneyland-the family decide to use the camera to document their Christmas celebrations.
My initial suspicions, that Coopers' Christmas would be a National Lampoons' Christmas Vacation clone, proved to be way off the mark. Whereas the Griswold's Christmas tale is a warm family comedy, Coopers' Christmas is a crude, lewd, and at times uncomfortable movie that is frequently laugh out loud funny, and quick to highlight the tensions that can -- and do -- simmer beneath big family Christmas's.
Shot in a "cinema verite" style, the film opens, like The Blair Witch Project, with an explanatory paragraph explaining how the footage was edited together from the Cooper family's Christmas of 1985. From there we gradually get introduced to the Cooper family on Christmas morning, with tensions already simmering due to a misunderstanding that has seen eldest son Marcus receive a Mr. Potato Head instead of Jabba the Hut. While Marcus sits frustrated-wondering how anyone could mistake a toy pony with a Tauntaun, youngest son Teddy begins getting to grips with the family's new VHS camera; and it is from Teddy's viewpoint that we see most of the events unfold.
Coopers' Christmas is very much a character based film, and rarely concerns itself with anything resembling a plot. Thankfully, the cast of characters contains a host of wonderful creations that -- if we were to be completely honest -- few families would fail to recognize from their own get-togethers and gives the film an instant familiarity. There's the cantankerous nana, who is the victim of an unfortunate "up-skirt" shot, and who insists upon a "traditional" Christmas breakfast of mushrooms on toast. Mike Beaver's Uncle Nick is a loud, crude, lecherous oaf who makes Randy Quaid's Uncle Eddie from the Vacation movies looks like a saint. Often found to be regaling anyone within earshot with one of his sexual misdemeanors ("Some would call it rape, but I'm sure she'd say yes if she was awake."), he couples blatant sexism with casual racism, while being unable to determine whether it was a dog or a child that he ran over during his last bender. Uncle Tim, who felt up Gord's wife on his wedding night, also makes a return after 17-years of not seeing his brother.
Gord Cooper himself -- a boorish man with an unhealthy obsession with mannequins -- combines equal measures of Homer Simpson and David Brent (The Office). Full of double standards ("You don't use the t word in reference to your mom's tits!"), and never afraid to embarrass his kids, Gord is the only character blessed with anything resembling an arc, as he learns how important his family is to him amidst the chaos of Christmas Day. Whilst eldest son Marcus -- whose gender, it seems, is open to debate -- is a typically whiny seventeen year old; youngest son Teddy is a smart, witty young lad whose growing interest in girls sees him involved in an inappropriate transaction with his cousin Heather, where he blows his savings -- $2 a time -- for her to gradually strip for him.
Throw in Nancy Cooper, who it seems may have skeletons in her cupboard regarding past indiscretions, and a host of other foul mouthed, spiteful, ill-mannered relatives, and the scene is set for total family breakdown. And that's before the booze starts flowing -- in increasingly copious quantities -- which sees the tone going lower and lower.
Coopers' Christmas is full of gags that had me gasping for breath, as improper gifts ("that would be a penis pump, for your lazy love muscle.") and references to the mid-eighties keep hitting the mark, one after the other. There are even intermittent Cloverfield style cuts to previously filmed material; in this case next door neighbor Bill Davidson's homemade sex tapes -- which includes a little full-frontal male nudity. Writers Mike Beaver and Jason Jones really should be commended for their screenplay, which is never shy of reveling in the awkwardness of a big family Christmas, or of making its audience squirm, while being smart enough to ensure we laugh at -- rather than with -- the likes of Uncle Nick's bigoted diatribes. The two writers also pack their script with endlessly quotable dialogue that will have you tittering for days. Director James P. Sonoda apparently shares Beaver and Jones' sense of humor, and ensures the film maintains a natural feel. Rarely breaking the illusion of watching an actual home movie, for the first 70-minutes the film maintains a frantic pace.
Anchor Bay's DVD release of Coopers' Christmas comes with a sharp 1.78:1 transfer that contains bright colors and a good level of detail. The 5.1 soundtrack rarely puts a foot wrong, except, like the video, when the filmmakers are having a little fun and throw in a few intentional glitches.
Kicking off the extras is a commentary with director Warren P. Sonoda and Producer Sean Buckley. Backed up by the "Where Genius Collides with Inspiration" featurette, the supplemental materials confirm the suspicion that everyone involved in making the film had a heap of fun doing so.
As the film enters its final act, and a more structured -- even emotional -- storyline is introduced, Coopers' Christmas inevitably loses the momentum it has worked up over the previous, anarchic, hour or so. Suddenly -- and it's quite abrupt -- the laughs start to dry up. The film works so much better when it instead plays as a series of almost random comedic moments, though the decision of Jones and Beaver to bless their film with a little heart is understandable. It is a Christmas movie after all.
Coopers' Christmas is a refreshingly un-PC antidote to the saccharine sweet Christmas movies we get year after year. Yes, the humor is lowbrow, and if the thought of seeing Jason Jones "working one out" is too much for you, then Coopers' Christmas is probably best avoided. But for anyone who appreciates an unruly child punching an old man in the groin, Coopers' Christmas could well be a new festive favorite.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated