Entertainment » Movies

Happy Christmas

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Nov 13, 2014
Happy Christmas

If you're looking for the feel-good movie of the year, a modern day "It's a Wonderful Life," "Happy Christmas" is not what you're looking for.

Rather, this film is the latest offering by producer, director, writer, editor, cameraman and occasional actor Joe Swanberg, whose micro-budgeted, run-and-gun filmmaking style has been classified by film enthusiasts as part of the "Mumblecore" movement.

In opposition to film schools like UCLA, where the university finances a limited number of nicely budgeted "big short films" each year and all the film students work together on them, schools like Southern Illinois University at Carbondale encourage students to make their own film, in their own voice -- but they must also pay for it on their own. Swanberg, who earned his Bachelor's Degree at SIU Carbondale, comes from this tradition, and the result is a low budget and low-key narrative with a highly personal tone.

Having let her life fall apart somewhat after breaking up with her boyfriend, Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves to Chicago and in with her older brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and their baby boy.

This seems like a win-win situation for Kelly, who is exhausted with the responsibility of a toddler and wants some free time to work on her next novel. But the very day she arrives, Jenny goes to a party, gets sloppy drunk and creates a big scene -- to the point where she passes out and Jeff has to go pick her up in the middle of the night and carry her home.

The heart and soul of this film comes not through its fancy filmic manipulation of crafting and pacing a scene through editing, but from the naturalistic, improvised acting and dialogue provided by the three main women.

Kelly is upset and doesn't know if she can trust her sister-in-law around the child. But even though Jenny continues to make questionable choices (like getting involved with a drug-dealing babysitter), it becomes clear that Jenny bring things to this married couple's lives that they wouldn't have without her. (For instance, Jenny and her friend Carson [Lena Dunham] encourage Kelly to start writing again by collaborating with her on a bodice-ripping, erotic novel.)

Most of the scenes are covered in one hand-held uninterrupted master shot, the dialogue is mostly improvised, and the location settings (I wouldn't be surprised if the house where most of the action takes place were Swanberg's own) are minimally lit.

The heart and soul of this film comes not through its fancy filmic manipulation of crafting and pacing a scene through editing, but from the naturalistic, improvised acting and dialogue provided by the three main female roles.

Melanie Lynskey, whom you'll remember from her brilliant role as the obsessive-compulsive stalker Rose in "Two and a Half Men," is vividly nervy and understated. Anna Kendrick, who also worked with Swanberg on "Drinking Buddies" and plays the role of Cinderella in the upcoming "Into the Woods," radiates a similar inconspicuous humor. And Lena Dunham pops from the screen with that unique, observational wit that we've grown to love in "Girls."


"Happy Christmas"
DVD
Rated R / 82 min.
paramount.com

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