‘Happy Christmas’ Movie Review – Merry Mumblecore Christmas
Some people go to the movies to escape reality, they want to see something extraordinary. These are the types of people that loved the movie Gravity (a movie I adored). Others go to the movies to watch reality. These are types of people that love movies like the Before trilogy (again, adored) or movies that talk about everyday “real-life” problems. The latter persons need to check out Joe Swanberg’s (Drinking Buddies) Happy Christmas because it puts character problems at the forefront while sticking with the mumblecore genre that got Swanberg his recognition.
The dramedy takes place at the home of Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and Jeff (Swanberg) but focuses more on Jeff’s sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick). As a twenty-something (we find out towards the end of the film she’s 27) drifter, Jenny should have matured past the let’s-get-drunk stage of her life and transitioned into the okay-let’s-get-our-life-going stage. However, Jenny hasn’t quite made the transition, leading to her living in her brother’s basement during the holidays.
Without a synopsis, the film starts out looking like an anti-drinking PSA. Jenny’s first night in town involves her getting drunk with her compatible cousin (Lena Dunham) and blacking out at a party. This obviously gets the attention of her sister-in-law, Kelly, who is busy taking care of her two-year-old.
I’m really glad the movie didn’t continue down this road because, while it is an everyday problem, Happy Christmas would’ve been much preachier than anyone wants to see.
Instead, the movie meanders into some interesting ideas including feminism, ambition, and family dynamics. For a movie that is a quick 88 minutes, Happy Christmas quietly packs a lot into the script.
I chose “meanders” and “quietly” on purpose because Swanberg again incorporates “mumblecore” – a movement in independent films that focuses on improvisation and natural conversation. Scripts and screenwriting make it each to control the dialogue but, in a perfect world, we’d have actors and actresses that could improv their way across the film.
We don’t live in a perfect world, but the talent in Happy Christmas deserves recognition for making the story feel real (something this film really needs), even if they have to sacrifice the need for a perfect, polished back-and-forth dialogue. Sometimes, Happy Christmas feels awkward, but then again, isn’t that how conversation naturally is? Especially when dealing with some of the more awkward ideas like the aforementioned feminism, ambition, and family dynamics?
Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, don’t get me wrong, is not for everyone. It’s not a movie that will play at hundreds (if even tens) of theaters. It’s not a movie you’ll rush out and buy in some fancy DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. However, if you get the chance to see the movie, you’ll most definitely appreciate what the characters are going through and how well the actors bring the story to screen. This seems like filmmaking 101, but plenty of films that have released around Happy Christmas can’t say the same thing.
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