Sunday, December 14, 2014

Happy Christmas (movie review)

Sunday, December 14, 2014 10:21 PM with 2 comments

Happy Christmas

Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Joe Swanberg and Mark Webber
Rated: R for language, drug use and some sexual content 


The genre known as "mumblecore" is a hit-or-miss one for me. Way more so than any other genre. I either love it, or I turn it off after about 20 minutes. A movie that isn't really about anything can be a hard sell, but when you have a stellar cast like this one, it's easier to forgive it for its lack of action or real purpose.

Happy Christmas follows a girl named Jenny, played by the wonderful Anna Kendrick, who is moving back to her hometown of Chicago after a bad break-up. She plans on staying with her brother, Jeff, and his family until she can get on her feet and find her own place. In exchange for a roof over her head, Jenny is supposed to pitch in around the house, including doing some baby-sitting whenever Jeff's wife, Kelly, who is a stay-at-home mom, needs her.

On her first night in town, Jenny goes out with an old friend, played by Lena Dunham, and gets wasted to the point that Jeff needs to be called to come get her. Hangover, she sleeps in the next day when she was supposed to baby-sit for Kelly. This act of irresponsibility makes Kelly question whether or not she can trust Jenny and if this new arrangement is a good idea. Slowly, though, the two women form a friendship and an almost partnership on a project I won't mention here.

I really enjoyed Happy Christmas. It is an extremely slight movie--clocking in well under 90 minutes--and while I have to admit that I was a bit shocked when I realized the movie had ended rather abruptly after only an hour and twenty minutes, I did still enjoy it. This is due almost entirely to the wonderful cast.

Both of the female leads--Kendrick and Lynskey--are excellent in their roles. I adore Kendrick to pieces and truly believe she will be her generation's Meryl Streep. She is just so funny and smart and talented. In anybody else's shoes, Jenny could easily have been annoying or forgettable, but Kendrick brings an awkwardness and heart to the role that is so real and believable. I've always really liked Lynskey, too, and never understood why she doesn't work more. While Kelly is, of course, married, and Jenny starts her own rebound romance, the relationship in this film that I enjoyed the most was between these two women.

The other role that really made this movie was by the two-year old who plays Jeff and Kelly's son. I actually watched the credits to see if my assumption that he was actually Joe Swanberg's (who plays Jeff) real son. He is. Because he is with his actual father, the relationship is so natural in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. This kid is beyond adorable. I've never seen such an authentic "performance" from a baby.


While this film isn't ground-breaking by any stretch of the imagination, everything about it was warm and realistic. Jeff and Kelly's marriage is loving and lovely, but you can feel Kelly's desperation to get back to writing. An author by trade, she is finding it hard to find the time to write in her new-ish role as a stay-at-home mom. You also can't help but feel for Jenny who is getting over a break-up in her late twenties and finding herself in this new stuck-in-limbo reality. 

Again, my only real complaint is with the way the movie ended. It almost felt like a shrug. Like, "Well, I guess that's all and stuff. Meh." For a second I was honestly confused that the movie had ended. Despite that, I would definitely recommend this film if you are looking for something short, easy, and charming. It's now streaming on Netflix. 


  1. I can't say I've heard of this movie before, but I think it's perfect for the season.

  2. Great review! I watched this when it first came out (mainly just for Anna Kendrick) and found myself quite enjoying it. I definitely agree with the point you make about mumblecore - in most cases it really is either hit or miss - the good thing is that usually these films are quite short, so even if it is a miss, I tend to watch the whole thing.


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