REVIEW: Happy Christmas

26 06 2014

Happy ChristmasJoe Swanberg had a modest little hit on his hands last summer with “Drinking Buddies,” a more mainstream-friendly comedy.  And thanks to all the stars he packed into the film (and thus the cover art), it seems to have found some nice legs on Netflix.

Happy Christmas” seems unlikely to win over those new fans once more, and it may not even wholly satisfy those more tolerant of the mumblecore style.  Swanberg shows his talents, sure, but the whole enterprise just feels slight and disposable.

It’s a slice of not particularly interesting life that gets in and out within 82 minutes.  During that runtime, the film doesn’t really have much to say, either.  Anna Kendrick gets to have some fun as Jenny, a hapless twentysomething who moves in with her brother Jeff (Swanberg) and his wife, the sometimes-writer Kelly (Melanie Lynskey).

She brings headache and heartache along with her, as plenty of our own family members are capable of doing.  This familiar narrative device yields little new to ponder or even laugh about.  Unwrapping “Happy Christmas” is like opening the gift from that random aunt of yours … and realizing it’s the same thing you got from her last year.

Though the film is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, that’s not to say it doesn’t boast some great facets.  The “cool girl,” seemingly down-to-earth Kendrick is a perfect fit for Swanberg speak.  She stammers like a natural, fumbling over “like” just as any of us would and reacts to her surroundings with startling authenticity.  Kendrick brings the honesty and fun to “Happy Christmas” where everyone else just seems kind of dour and depressed.  At least we can say we spent some time basking in her aura of awesomeness.  B-2stars