Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Christmas: Movie Review

A look at the line between immaturity and maturity with charming characters.
Happy Christmas is an oddly mature look at immature people as they approach a happy time in people’s lives – Christmas. Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and Jeff (Joe Swanberg) is a happily married couple with a young baby. Jeff’s younger sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick), just went through a break-up and is coming to stay with them in Chicago. She isn’t particularly happy, but she does have a certain happy-go-lucky nature to her. 2014

Directed by: Joe Swanberg

Screenplay by: Joe Swanberg

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey

Melanie Lynskey and Joe Swanberg in HAPPY CHRISTMAS,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Part of the simple efficiency to the film is the basic character types – Kelly is the stay-at-home mom frustrated with the stay-at-home part and that she doesn’t have a job to go to. Jeff is the ultra-supportive husband who goes to work and brings home the bacon. Jenny is the irresponsible, floundering twenty-something who has no structure to her empty life. Why? Because she doesn’t want kids; she doesn’t hate them but she doesn’t want one herself.

At first the film has a look and feel reminiscent of the HBO show Girls. Probably because it co-stars Lena Dunham and features 20-something girls who are more focused on parties, alcohol and sex, rather than their career. But this works for the film due to the many negative and positive characteristics that Jenny has. And Dunham’s few scenes are surprisingly very funny – including trying to pick up and carry a drunk and passed out Jenny who is asleep on somebody else’s bed.

Jenny is very immature, tends to think of herself before anybody or anything else, but she’s not intentionally malicious or self-important. She can be responsible, but she’s never had to put somebody else before herself. The selfless and mature Kelly, on the other hand, judges Jenny and judges Jeff just for being related to her. She also fails to see how her personal pedestal doesn’t actually make her a better person. This is what Swanberg has started to excel at is creating basic character types, giving them all negative and positive characteristics and just let the film unfold around them.

Lena Dunham, Anna Kendrick and Jude Swanberg
in HAPPY CHRISTMAS, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The film is very minimal in style and very little happens other than the main characters interacting with one another. The dialogue is also meant to be realistic and natural including lots of “um”s and “uh”s. It can be a very off-putting style, but I was intrigued by Kendrick’s hilarious portrayal of the simply damaged Jenny, and Swanberg’s Joe who is trying to straddle the line between the very different sisters-in-law.

There are some great moments of humour that the film uses to propel the film and its characters forward. Kelly’s job away-from-home is that of a novelist and the completely inexperienced Jenny is going to help her become more successful. The medieval fantasy erotica novel which Jenny convinces her to write is hilarious, and the realization that the novel would actually be worse than it sounds makes it even funnier.

Happy Christmas isn’t quite as universal and compelling as “Drinking Buddies,” but the entire ensemble, particularly Kendrick, is just as charming. For a funny, not as straight but very simple, look at clashing sisters-in-law and the line between maturity and immaturity, the film should work well.
Best Lesser-known of 2014

Similar Titles:

Drinking Buddies (2013) - The criss-crossing of two relationships by four perfectly matched actors.

Before Midnight (2013) - The evolution of lives, the devolution of a relationship, the fight of immaturity versus maturity.

Newlyweds (2011) - Characters who step out of their relationship and into real life.