Tuesday, July 1, 2014

[Review] Happy Christmas

Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) are a thirty-something couple with a newborn baby, and they're preparing for Jeff's sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick) to come visit around Christmas time. When Jenny arrives, it's quickly apparent that she's a bit irresponsible in her antics, and her behavior threatens to cause conflict within the household. The film is so low-key that it's actually a lot less chaotic than what the premise suggests.

Much in the spirit of mumblecore, the focus is less on plot, and more on human nature, relationships, off-beat interactions, and pondering conversations. The low-budget, handheld camera approach makes the film look just a few steps above home movies. Since Happy Christmas is more of an observational glance at someone's life, it's minor to a fault, and about midway through, it feels like not much has happened. Swanberg's previous feature Drinking Buddies suffered from the same troubles.

Lena Dunham's supporting appearance as Jenny's friend, is a highlight--delivering some much needed comedy, vigor, and an endearing presence within this setting. And the film's runtime is a brief 75 minutes, so it never quite gets sloggy.

Swanberg is pretty good at these observational slices, and the characters are well drawn, but too often this style is frustratingly confining, and it could use a breakthrough--or at least a little more spice.


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