We’re finally just days away from Christmas, hoorah! And by golly, there is a film that exists with the tagline “Family is the gift that keeps on taking.” How can you resist? Even better, it’s written and directed by a real life legend, Joe Swanberg. I might get hated on for using that loaded term, but seriously, Swanberg is somewhat of a mumblecore institution now. The guy has made 19 feature films, and he’s only 34! That’s more than many directors do in their entire careers. It’s okay if you’re not on board; improv isn’t for everybody. But if you haven’t yet tried what he’s serving, come on, embrace the shaky-cam and give Happy Christmas a go.
The film revolves around the messy pursuits of Jenny (Anna Kendrick), a hard-partying 20-something. She seems normal at the beginning, when she crashes the pad of her filmmaker brother Jeff (Swanberg) after a nasty break-up. But her empty offer to help Jeff’s wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) with the dishes before going to meet her friend Carson (Lena Dunham) is an early hint that she’s been spoiled in life. Then when she goes to a party and drinks so much of an unknown concoction that she passes out, knowing that she has adult responsibilities the next day, we realize that this girl is a ticking time bomb. Poor Jeff and Kelly. They’re just trying to live their idyllic married life with their miniature Cheerio-enthusiast, a.k.a. 2-year-old son! Enter Kevin (Mark Webber), the babysitter/pot dealer with whom Jenny entertains a rocky ‘relationship’, and now you’ve got an eclectic group of characters who are all dealing (and not dealing) with everyday obstacles in their own way.
One of the best, most character-revealing scenes in Happy Christmas is where Kelly has a drink in her basement with Jenny and Carson, and they get into the details of Kelly’s struggle to balance writing with being a full-time mother. This is where the emotional heart of the film lies. The tables flip, and Jenny is the one (sort of) sensibly encouraging the tipsy Kelly to pursue her dreams. Yeah, Jenny’s wise words become not so sensible when she starts talking about sexy mom novels, but we all know that scene is priceless. Better yet, it leads to a brilliant and hysterical conversation between Jenny, Kelly, and Carson about what the book could involve. This is completely fantastic and all the actors are at the top of their game. At the end of the day, Jenny might be a total handful, but there’s no denying that she is a positive influence on Kelly’s life. More than that, her presence actually becomes necessary for all parties, and that’s where the film drops surprises.
Warning: there will be talk of c**k, p***y, c**t, assholes, and medieval underpants. It’s possible that Jeff might get high as a kite, but the next day he’ll give Kelly the best Christmas present ever, and it’s all because of Jenny. A Swanberg-style Christmas brings just the right amount of drama, so I invite you to give this a whirl on Netflix. Let me know what you think on Twitter, or reach out in the comments below. Happy almost Christmas, universe!
IMAGE: Magnolia Pictures