Christmas is a time for family, a time to be with the ones we love. That’s something for Jeff and Kelly to remember when a sometimes challenging house-guest comes to stay. Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas is reviewed after the jump.
Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and Kelly’s (Melanie Lynskey) life is interrupted when Jeff’s younger sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick) comes to stay with them after a relationship breakup. Kelly and Jeff live in suburban Chicago with their young son Jude (Jude Swanberg) in a home which has a hilariously gaudy Tiki bar in the basement. Drinking her way into their bad books almost immediately, it’s clear that Jenny doesn’t have her shit together. Kelly was hoping Jenny would be responsible enough to look after her son so she could get some time for herself, but it seems she can’t look after herself, let alone another person. How far can Christmas goodwill and familial obligation stretch?
Joe Swanberg writes dialogue which reflects how people really talk. Regardless of the topic, I am always so enamored by the naturalistic [frequently improvised] conversations between his characters. Couple this dialogue with incredibly enduring actors and you have a winning combination. The saying “never work with children or animals” is ignored in Happy Christmas for good reason. Swanberg just happens to have the world’s funniest baby and world’s most adorable dog. They both love the camera and provide many laughs. Seriously, this kid is hot stuff and Joe Swanberg is quite charming on-screen with him. The drug-dealer side character (played by Mark Webber) doesn’t work so well (he wasn’t adorable at all) and his scenes feel quite stilted. Thankfully the dealer owned the dog, so his character was not completely without merit.
Three wonderful female actors shine in Happy Christmas, with Lynskey, Dunham and Kendrick all giving great performances. The discussion between the three about a potential erotic novel is side-splitting and it’s just so refreshing to hear women talk to each other like women do, not like men want them to. Despite Jenny and Kelly being at different stages in their lives, I enjoyed that they were able to find a common ground. Jenny knows she’s a mess and Kelly just wants some time to write again. In admitting that life doesn’t always work out how you plan it, a bond[ beyond family] grew between them. I also love that Lynskey spoke in her native New Zealand accent and that Swanberg trusted his audience’s intelligence enough not to explain that to us. More of this in film please!
By Sam McCosh
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer(s): Joe Swanberg
Starring: Joe Swanberg, Lena Dunham, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey
Runtime: 78 minutes