Coopers’ Camera, which premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, is a film brimming with Canadian talent. It’s written by The Daily Show‘s Jason Jones and Billable Hours‘ Mike Beaver and directed by Warren P. Sonoda. It was also filmed in Canada. But don’t let all the “Canadian-ness” scare you, it’s not a film with obscure references about Canadian culture (nor do Mounties make an appearance). Coopers’ Camera happens to tell the comedic story of family dysfunctional in a universal way.
The story is told through the lens of an old school VHS camcorder, a Christmas gift purchased by Gord, the patriarch of the Cooper family. It’s with the video captured through the hand held video camera that we see just what happens with the Coopers on Christmas Day in 1985 (so yes, there is great, if not memorable, 80s fashions and hairstyles to be witnessed). As the camera switches between family members, the audience begins to uncover the family dysfunction within the family. There’s Gord (Jason Jones), the clueless, weak-willed but well-meaning father. His pregnant wife, Nancy (played by Jones’ real life wife and fellow Daily Show correspondent, Samantha Bee), appears to be in a rut, particularly when it comes to their marriage, and is just overall frustrated that Gord acts oblivious to the fact she is pregnant. Teddy is the younger son and Marcus is the older, gloomy and rather dorky teenage boy. Together, along with Nana Gert (Nancy’s surly mother, played by Jayne Eastwood), they live in what you’d expect a typical 80s suburban house to look like. Clearly, they are a family with issues but well, doesn’t every family?
The Coopers are joined by other quirky family members, including the other married in real life couple of the film and stars of Billable Hours, Mike Beaver and Jennifer Baxter who play Uncle Nick and Aunt Bev.
This particular Christmas, Gord announces that he’s invited his estranged brother Tim (Peter Keleghan) to the festivities. But the invite aside, there’s obvious tension there, between Tim and Gord. As well, there’s discernible uneasiness from Nancy about this news. Past history of epic proportions is evident by each party’s demeanour once Tim arrives. Tim is smug, righteous and overly confident — pretty much the polar opposite of Gord.
At the heart of this film is the idea that through the good times and bad, through thick and thin, your family is your family — so deal with it. It’s a sentiment that expressed in similar films that deal with family dysfunction in a comedic way (i.e. Little Miss Sunshine). In fact, Coopers’ Camera reminded me quite a bit of Little Miss Sunshine, in terms of look and feel and the way the story arc concluded. Of course, this film used the hand held video effect and while this effect usually makes me a bit nauseated, I felt perfectly fine throughout the movie. It actually enhanced the storytelling in some parts; since the camcorder was traded between family members (though usually operated by the youngest son, Teddy), you sometimes weren’t quite sure who exactly was behind the camera and overhearing the conversations they were filming, until they were actually acknowledged by someone else. At one particular point, when Gord comes to realize his wife’s discontent, this actually creates a poignant effect and allows for the storyline to move along.
Coopers’ Camera can be a tad crude, to put it lightly (i.e. piss shots, boners, Jason Jones’ character on a toilet, vomit, underage striptease, etc). But it is an all-around laugh out loud kind of film, with plentiful gags and memorable scenes and dialogue. Not to mention the great job on making the film look as authentically 80s as possible, with the god awful haircuts and tacky sweaters. And hey, there’s also a cameo from The Kids in the Hall‘s Dave Foley’s penis — so that alone is probably worth the price of admission.
A few pictures from the Q & A session after the second screening (unfortunately, I was not able to go to the first screening which included the entire cast).