Review: Happy Christmas (Sundance 2014)
PLOT:Fresh from a rough breakup and with Christmas approaching, Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and sister-in-law Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). The irresponsible and impulsive Jenny soon finds herself at odds with Kelly, but their tense relationship begins to warm up as the two get to know each other, and Jenny finds herself growing up by being part of a loving family.
REVIEW: HAPPY CHRISTMAS- the latest from mumblecore director Joe Swanberg- is essentially plot-less although that's not necessarily a bad thing. More than anything, it's just a slice-of-life where you're invited into the lives of the three main characters as Christmas approaches, watching them alternately bicker and get-along. Nothing especially big happens, with the only conflict being from Kendrick's character being too irresponsible to fit into Jeff and Kelly's lives, with them being new parents of a precocious and adorable baby boy (Swanberg's own son).
While nothing much happens, HAPPY CHRISTMAS is still quite enjoyable for what it is. The characters are likable, and spending the holidays with them over the course of this quick seventy-eight minute film is agreeable. Anna Kendrick previously acted in Swanberg's stab at the mainstream- DRINKING BUDDIES- but this one feels more experimental, being a candid glimpse at complicated family dynamics. The upside of there being no plot is that the story is wholly character driven, with Kendrick and Lynskey getting lots of time to establish their complex relationship, which blooms over the course of the film.
Early on, the two are wary of each other, with Jenny thinking Kelly is stuck-up, while Kelly fears Jenny's irresponsible nature will clash with her relatively peaceful household. Their burgeoning friendship, sparked when the two begin to collaborate on a cheesy romance novel, gives the film its heart, and it helps that Kendrick and Lynskey's chemistry is strong. The dialogue feels improvised, with Kendrick speaking like a typical young adult, meaning lots of “likes” sprinkled in with her dialogue. She's believably self-centered, especially in a relationship she starts with the local pot-dealer/ babysitter, played by Mark Webber. She can come off as a petulant child, but she has a good heart, which keeps you invested in the character.
Swanberg himself plays a major role as Kendrick's older brother, and as always, he's an agreeable presence. His son is especially cute, giving what could only be called the best performance by a baby in the history of cinema. GIRLS Lena Dunham shows up in a smallish part as Kendrick's best friend, and while the slightly selfish but ultimately decent character obviously isn't a big stretch, it can't be denied that she fits right in to Swanberg's mumblecore world.
Being essentially plotless, HAPPY CHRISTMAS obviously isn't an especially dramatic entry into this year's Sundance, but it's a pleasant enough film that it should do well on a VOD platform if given a good holiday berth. Kendrick and Lynskey are always worth watching, and this low-budget experiment is a good showcase for both of them.