You might be inclined to make a few quick assumptions about the intentions of Happy Christmas by virtue of its title alone. After all, what else could a film so monikered be about other than finding sappy, phone baloney catharsis in the spirit of the season? In nine out of ten cases, you’d be spot-on with any preconceptions you brew up about a film with that sort of appellation, but Happy Christmas is the ten where your guesswork will fail you.
That’s because Happy Christmas is the product of Joe Swanberg, perhaps best known for his 2013 film, Drinking Buddies, which saw him collaborate with performers like Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, and Anna Kendrick. Happy Christmas sees Swanberg re-team with Kendrick in his Chicago roots; this time around, though, she’s Swanberg’s star, the figure at the center of his latest movie about arrested adulthood and the struggle to develop late-stage personal responsibility.
Happy Christmas revolves around Jenny (Kendrick), an unmoored 20-something aimlessly floating through life who moves in with her older brother, Jeff (Swanberg), her sister-in-law, Kelly (The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Melanie Lynskey), and their two year old. Jenny’s arrival throws Jeff’s and Kelly’s existence off-kilter thanks to her baggage train of emotional issues; she dallies with their nameless, pot-dealing babysitter (Scott Pilgrim‘s Mark Webber), and, with the help of her friend Carson (Girls‘ Lena Dunham), begins instigating change in Kelly’s life and career.
Some of this comes through clearly in the teaser; Jenny’s fondness for booze makes her a real handful, whether she’s smoking up the house or just passing out in the hallway. What’s left unsaid are the reasons behind her alcoholism, or what exact impact she winds up having on Kelly (and, consequently, what that means for Jeff). The film doesn’t even run an hour and twenty minutes in length, so Swanberg’s need to play his cards close to the vest is pretty plain.
Swanberg has gone through a very noticeable evolution as a filmmaker and an actor; he got his start making movies practically by himself, with perhaps only one person available to hold the camera or man the lights and a couple friends to make up his cast. Now, he’s working with more recognizable talent, not just Kendrick, but also Beasts of the Southern Wild cinematographer Ben Richardson.
Seems like that evolution remains ongoing, even if he’s still content stepping on the other side of the lens with movies like this and The Sacrament. Happy Christmas rings as an even more commercial attempt at filmmaking than Drinking Buddies, though he clearly hasn’t relinquished his DIY aesthetic. If anything, expect the film to distinguish itself from other holiday-oriented fare; it just wouldn’t be a Swanberg movie if feelings didn’t get hurt and things didn’t get ugly.
Happy Christmas hits VOD platforms on June 26th, 2014, and arrives in theaters on July 25th, 2014.
Source: iTunes Movie Trailers
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