29th Jul2014

‘Happy Christmas’ VOD Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Jude Swanberg | Written and Directed by Joe Swanberg


Families can be forgiving, they can be giving and they can also be selfish. Happy Christmas is a film that looks at the more taking side of family, when they need help and you just can’t say no.  Letting them move into your home can seem a good idea, it can even provide a live in baby sitter if you are lucky but in the end is the inability to say no to somebody you love a good thing?

After a bad breakup Jenny (Kendrick) moves into the home of her brother Jeff (Swanberg) and his writer wife Kelly (Lynskey).  Initially causing problems due to her wild ways Jenny soon finds a place in the home forming a friendship with Kelly. With Jenny’s influence it’s not long before Kelly looks to evolve her home and work life to help her find a happiness she feels she missed.

Happy Christmas comes from Joe Swanberg, the director of Drinking Buddies, but where that movie was a move away from the “Mumblecore” style of his past this feels like a step back to it, which is not a bad thing. What we end up with is a movie where most of the dialogue is actually spontaneous giving Happy Christmas a more organic and real feel. Anna Kendrick excels in her role as Jenny who is a character looking for her new path in life.  Somewhat of a selfish character she tends to mess up when things don’t go her way and these often lead to repercussions to the characters around her.  Most importantly though is the fact that she is the catalyst for change for the people who care about her.

The main character to fall under Jenny’s spell is Kelly who when we meet her has become used to the life of a live at home mother who with one book published dreams of writing others, which have so far stalled.  When Jenny appears in her life she is somewhat intimidated and even scared by the carefree girl who brings chaos into her life, but if anything this lack of control is just what she needs.  Some of the best scenes in the movie are when Jenny and her friend Carson (Dunham) comment on Kelly’s life as a mother and in a moment of feminist sisterhood (if it can be termed that way) open her eyes to the fact she is stronger than she realises and deserves to get more not only from her life but her career too.

This theme of feminism, especially with Kelly is a nice touch in Happy Christmas because it shows the positivity of empowerment. Melanie Lynskey makes the character of Kelly flourish as she spends time away from home and finally has time to write more, and again the fact that she works with Jenny to take her writing in a new direction really makes the character flourish. The ending of the film may be slightly abrupt and we may not see much resolution for Jenny, but the fact that Kelly is fully awakened to who she can be is a very strong message to not just accept normality.

Films like this, that look for improvisation, rely on the actors a lot and this is a reason that Happy Christmas works for me. Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey work well together, and Lena Dunham is quite a powerhouse of improvisation but there is one character that steals every scene that he is in.  This character is called Jude, played by Jude Swanberg the baby son of the director Joe Swanberg. With little direction needed from the other actors and his father this baby provides some of the funniest and spontaneous moments of the movie and it feels real, which is no surprise when his father is the director and on screen with him.

Happy Christmas is one of those movies that is about life and in truth does little else but show you people living their lives, messing up and having realisations. This style is not for everybody, and even people who are used to it may find that Happy Christmas is a little slow for them. I found though that it’s a relaxing experience where I felt a part of these people’s lives. It may have felt like the film ended a little too lazily and without enough resolution but for the time I watched it I enjoyed myself and that is good enough for me.

**** 4/5

Happy Christmas is available on Digital and VOD now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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