Entertainment » Movies

Happy Christmas

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 25, 2014
A Scene from 'Happy Christmas'
A Scene from 'Happy Christmas'  

Jeff and Kelly are trying are trying to do a balancing act, juggling their freelance careers whilst bringing up their two-year-old son Jude. It's slightly off-kilter right now, as Jeff is managing to work on pre-production of his next movie, but Kelly has writer's block since she completed her first book, so has settled for full-time homemaking for now. The couple are, however, quite happy, and things are going along relatively smoothly -- until they get a holiday visit that shatters their peace and throws the household into disarray.

The visitor is Jeff's rather volatile sister Jenny, who's just had a bad breakup from her latest boyfriend. She flies into town for some much needed TLC in return for helping them out with some childcare. It is soon apparent that self-absorbed Jenny is incapable of looking after herself, let alone a small child. On her first night she goes to a party with an old friend and gets so totally wasted that she passes out; Jeff is forced to go collect her in the middle of the night.

The next time Jenny gets totally drunk is when she is a babysitting young Jude at home, and this time she almost manages to burn the whole house down. It then takes a lot of persuading on Jeff's part to convince his very skeptical wife to give her sister-in-law another chance. Kelly does eventually agree, reluctantly, and the two women very slowly start to bond. Jenny actually encourages her to get back to writing by telling her to set aside her planned second novel and instead write a sexually-explicit trashy novel to make some fast money.

After last year's 'Drinking Buddies' this comedy is probably director Joe Swanberg's most accessible movie to date

Suddenly, Jenny has a purpose, too, and she looks less likely to self-destruct. She even grabs herself a new beau and starts to date the family babysitter (and pot dealer) Kevin and, surprisingly, looks as though she might live happily ever after all. Possibly.

This is the latest movie from prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who, as usual, directs, writes and stars in it, too. I will confess that I am a fan, as even when the plots are slight (as this one is) there is a cast of well-rounded characters whose interplay with each other as they cope with (and enjoy) their daily existence makes for fascinating viewing. Swanberg injects it all with his own tempered sense of humor, and in this instance is aided by the presence of Lena Dunham playing Carson, Jenny's best friend. But then he always shrewdly casts his movies with what appear to be his mates: Melanie Lynskey as Kelly, Anna Kendrick as Jenny, and Mark Webber as Kevin.

I'm generally on the same page as Charles Laughton when it comes to children in movies, but even I could not help but be seduced by scene-stealing baby Jude, played by Swanberg's own son.

After last year's "Drinking Buddies," this is probably Swanberg's second most accessible work to date, and part of his continued evolution from a filmmaker once known as the king of mumblecore. Long may it continue.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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