Christmas movies typically fall into one of two categories – There are the bright and bubbly classics designed to make families feel warm on the holidays, and there are the dark satires that expose the seedy underside of the hallmark holiday. Bob Clark’s beloved A Christmas Story falls into the former category, and provided Canada with a pleasant Christmas movie to be proud of. But on the flipside, Canada’s never had our version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Bad Santa – that is, until now.
Sadly overlooked during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and granted only a puny and perfunctory theatrical release, Cooper’s Camera is a hilarious comedy that deserves to be rediscovered by happy and unhappy families for years to come.
Canadian Daily Show correspondents Jason Jones and Samantha Bee star as the parents of a dysfunctional family primed to implode just in time for the holidays. The film opens with Jones’ pathetically lovable father giving his family a professional grade video camera for Christmas, which sets up the rest of the film’s premise as a compilation of horrifically hilarious found holiday footage.
After a morning of presents that sees Jones give his children cheap gas station toys masquerading as Star Wars merchandise, we’re introduced to Samantha Bee’s awkwardly pregnant mother (possibly carrying the child of another man), their perpetually drunk Uncle Nick, his jailbird son, a bitter chain-smoking grandmother, a slutty young cousin, a sad middle-aged aunt, her recent immigrant boyfriend, and the rest of their messed up kin. Booze flows freely, and soon all the holiday cheer turns into a cavalcade of exposed secrets that feels like the slapstick Canadian equivalent of The Celebration.
The home video conceit that could have so easily turned into a gimmick works quite well as the movie rarely feels overly staged or scripted. Though outlandish at times, this feels like a genuine family, and despite all of their terrible secrets (including infidelity, intersexuality, rampant alcoholism, and mannequin fetishes), you can’t help but love them all by the end. A great deal of this can be attributed to the wonderful performances led by Jason Jones, Samantha Bee and a mullet-sporting Mike Beaver (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jones). The film combines some of the most talented Canadian comedians of a generation with hysterically funny results. Even Dave Foley (who now seems to be contractually obligated to do full frontal nudity in all of his movies) pops up as the casual pervert who sells the family the camera, and whose sex tape they are recording over.
Toronto-based Warren P. Sonoda directs with a surprisingly light touch. He lets the actors take center stage, and he fills the background with some of the best thrift-shop props and getups this side of Napoleon Dynamite. Sonoda previously collaborated with Jones and Beaver on the underrated mocumentary Ham & Cheese, and hopefully this movie won’t disappear into obscurity like that unjustly forgotten gem.
Cooper’s Camera is an intelligently written dark comedy that is perfectly performed by a talented cast and delivers consistent laughs from start to finish. Comedies like that are hard to come by (particularly in Canada) and hopefully audiences will discover the movie on DVD. This deserves to be a Christmas comedy staple for delightfully dysfunctional families everywhere.