Loser in Love

An Unexpected Bond Turns Everything Around in The Cooler

For years, self-help books have asserted that your thoughts influence your reality?that if you schlep through life feeling like a loser, the energies of the universe will make you a loser.

In The Cooler , William H. Macy plays Bernie Lootz, a man whose sad sack demeanor not only makes him perennially unlucky, but affects all those with whom he comes in contact. His job at the Shangri-La casino in Las Vegas is to “cool” down anyone’s winning streak that could cost the casino too much money. The simple brush of Bernie’s hand against a roulette table causes Lady Luck to make a U-turn right out the door.

Paying off debts
Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), the Shangri-La’s manager and seeming friend to Bernie, relies on his cooler to keep profits high. But Bernie is days away from paying off the debt that kept him working for Shelly and plans to leave Vegas for good.

Enter Natalie (Maria Bello), a sexy waitress that Bernie has a crush on. After he does her a favor, she comes on to him and they spend one passionate night together.

The cooler in love
Instead of simply being a meaningless encounter, these two lost souls establish a deeper connection and find themselves pursuing a relationship with the caution and excitement of people who have been deeply wounded in the past. For the first time in years, they experience trust and intimacy with another person.

Bernie actually finds himself growing happier every day. Of course, happiness is a bad trait for a cooler to have, and Bernie’s job performance gets steadily worse?which doesn’t make Shelly happy.

The inner loser
I found The Cooler to be an entertaining and engaging film for a number of reasons. Bernie and Natalie’s story speaks to the “loser” in all of us and offers hope that meaningful connections can turn our lives around.

When Bernie steps out of himself to care for another person, the dark cloud he drags around like a child’s balloon?that keeps him from seeing life’s possibilities?slips out of his hands. Grace, in the form of human love, is offered and accepted, thereby presenting the chance for a new beginning.

A real film
The biggest surprise of the film is the attention given to the character of Shelly?and the Glengarry-esque performance by Alec Baldwin. Shelly could have been nothing more than a two-dimensional, foul-mouthed caricature of a casino boss. Instead, he’s given a complexity and depth that make you admire his honesty, cringe at his brutality, and wonder about his integrity. Shelly’s choices will shock you and keep you guessing until the very end.

This is a film that is witty, sharp, and real with characters that are beautifully and painfully fleshed out. The rough language and intense sexual situations may be a turn-off for some people. But if you’re looking for a quality adult drama with a positive message at its core, you’ll feel lucky to have found “The Cooler.”