Happy Christmas is a solidly-acted, meandering effort that doesn’t really amount to much. It contains some thoughtful passages on the challenges of everyday life with a toddler and the yearning to take care of a family member that is struggling to find his/her way in life, but the film isn’t very engrossing and seems content with being a slice-of-life observational piece about the rigors and expectations of everyday life. The shoulder shrug of an ending supports that theory.
After recently breaking up with her boyfriend, Jenny (Kendrick) moves to Chicago and in with her brother, Jeff (Swanberg), and his wife, Kelly (Lynskey). Jenny is a party girl that stays out until all hours of the night, which initially does not sit well with Jeff and Kelly since they have a child. Given a second chance, Jenny begins to right her behavior in addition to helping Kelly realize her dream of breaking free of the homemaker mold and becoming an author.
Aside from taking place around Christmas, Happy Christmas doesn’t have much to do with the holiday. Writer/director/actor Joe Swanberg takes a leisurely, character study-based approach with his own material. The pacing is deliberate and scenes are ad-libbed, particularly those with baby Jude (played by Swanberg’s real-life son), who manages to steal just about every scene he’s in. Swanberg does wring some humor out of scenes with Jenny’s friend, Carson (Dunham), but more often than not he’s content setting up the camera and seeing what happens. The results are mixed. Good performances are turned in by Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey, with the former bringing depth to a character that could have otherwise been unsavory and difficult to identify with. Happy Christmas is watchable throughout, but to say it’s worth the journey is another matter.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 82 Minutes
Rating: R for language, drug use and some sexual content.
Theatrical Release: July 25, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Written by: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg