The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses Happy Christmas, directed by Joe Swanberg.
When an aimless, partying 27-year-old moves into her married brother’s basement, she changes his life and that of her sister-in-law—for better and for worse.
Who knew that, out of the original 2008 Twilight movie cast, Anna Kendrick would prove to be the most versatile, talented, and successful? Her quick wit and likeable charm have graced numerous mainstream and indie films since then, with Pitch Perfect being her breakout starring role (and nabbing her a #6 Billboard hit record with the two-minute “Cups”). Here she steps out of her bright-schoolgirl persona into a slightly more troubled character, to great effect.
Chicago couple Jeff (this film’s director Joe Swanberg) and Kelly (Melanie Lynskey, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and their playful toddler son are settling in for a cheery holiday season. A cab pulls up outside and out steps Jenny (Kendrick), Jeff’s sweet if loopy sister. Jenny’s between things in her life and has come to live in Jeff’s swanky, tiki-bar basement until she can sort things out. No sooner has Jenny dropped her bags than she’s swept off by old buddy Carson (Lena Dunham, Girls) to a wild party, where Jenny overdrinks and passes out, forcing Jeff to come and rescue her. The next morning she’s in no shape to fulfill her babysitting commitment. Not off to a good start.
But just when you think this will become another “housemate from hell” story, something surprising happens. Jenny encourages a slightly depressed Kelly to restart her writing career and author a second novel (her first is still unpublished); to make some quick cash, Jenny suggests she pen a trashy erotica book. Carson joins the two ladies to brainstorm a suitably raunchy storyline (and in a hilarious end-credits sequence, to choose terms for man parts and lady parts). Meanwhile, Jenny’s weed supply offers Jeff welcome respite from his burden of responsibility. But Jenny’s no angel, and the problems recur…
Swanberg’s approach to directing seems to be to create a workable story thread, hire talented actors, and let them improvise everything. The strategy works brilliantly here; the hyperreal film has almost a documentary feel at times; it’s great seeing such smart performers creating characters rather than just reciting a script. Swanberg’s very long takes are effective, both in scenes of great awkwardness (Jenny’s nervous visit to an amorous weed-dealing friend) and sentimentality (Jenny and Kelly’s friendship makes them teary-eyed). Lena Dunham’s great, but the clever, goofy two-year-old (Swanberg’s kid) steals every scene he’s in.
Still, you’re thinking: a Christmas movie in July? Don’t let that put you off; the holiday trimming is well in the background; we don’t hear any carols or meet Santa or anything. Though not without its bickering, it lives up to its own adjective: this is a happy film, and happy is welcome year-round.
Happy Christmas is now playing on VOD, and will hit theaters in limited release July 25. This film is Rated R and runs 78 minutes.