After splitting up with her boyfriend just before the holidays, a young woman tries to start over, but her self-destructive behavior gets in the way.
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I inadvertently picked the least festive Christmas film for this week’s review. Joe Swanberg’s gentle observational dramedy “Happy Christmas” may take place in the lead up to Christmas, but it’s easy to forget that the drama is taking place at the most wonderful time of the year.
Just weeks before the big (Christmas) day, Jenny (Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend break up. With nowhere else to go, she moves into the basement room of the house belonging to her brother Jeff (Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and their two-year-old son (played by Swanberg’s real-life child, Jude). But, things get off to a rocky start when Jenny hits it hard at a house party on her first night with them.
Call me Scrooge all you like, but I kind of loved the fact that Christmas was presented as being an entirely normal week, just with the added stresses of family and present buying. It’s a welcome antidote to the sickly sentimentality that can creep into so many Christmas films.
Swanberg, for those of you unfamiliar, is an independent filmmaker associated with the “mumblecore” movement, and “Happy Christmas” has all the hallmarks of that subgenre. Plot is less important than character interactions, the acting style is loose and the dialogue totally improvisational. Fortunately, Swanberg’s acting troupe are up for the challenge.
Swanberg is an expert, at this point, and Lynskey provides able, if occasionally unsure, support. Kendrick is very strong and her natural giddy immaturity plays perfectly for the character. However, the star performer, by a country mile, is the adorable Jude Swanberg. His comedic timing and natural showmanship are delightful and he steals every scene he’s in.
It’s worth noting that the above poster image is not at all reflective of the final film. The film is funny, but the comedy is more painful than quirky. That being said, one of the most humorous subplots centres on Jenny’s attempts to help Kelly get back into writing by tackling an erotic novel. Jenny’s best friend Carson (Lena Dunham) soon joins their tepidly steamy brainstorming sessions and their feminist musings are well observed and entertaining.
It might not be one for the family on Christmas Eve, but if you’re in need of a sympathetic change of pace over this increasingly hectic holiday period, then “Happy Christmas” could well be the festive film for you. The melancholia takes centre stage, but there are life-affirming observations to take from this thoughtful film.
Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!