November 30, 2014

Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg, 2014
Young and not-so-responsible Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her older brother (played by Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and their two year old son in their small home in Chicago and disrupts their quite peaceful life.

Happy Christmas is a bold effort by mumblecore director Swanberg who once again employs Kendrick in entirely improvised story. Much of the film is set in the Chicago home, ironically decorated in 1950's nostalgia from the kitchen cabinetry to the basement wooden wall paneling. Shot on 16mm, there is a deliberate grittiness to the picture and saturation to the lighting. The constant view of Christmas lights pops, glowing warmly. The film has some very authentic-feeling moments. When Jenny and her friend Carson (Lena Dunham) start pressing Kelly on some of the personal sacrifices she has made as a stay-at-home mom, everything about it feels pure. Blossoming feelings with Kendrick and her new friend in his apartment. The exchanges between her and her brother in the basement, listening to music and smoking pot. The one-too-many drinking nights and the lack of judgement associated with them. Swanberg puts some real faith in Kendrick, and it really pays off. She brings more to her Jenny character than she was able to deliver in her previous collaboration with Swanberg in 2012's Drinking Buddies. Ironically, here she is actually acting out of type. She's usually the goodie-two-shoes innocent type. But here she is an capricious self-serving twenty-something, lacking direction and discipline in her life. She either has found some more comfort with working with Swanberg, or the change in character dynamics gave her more to play off of, or both. Either way, the final result of Swanberg's holiday experiment is small but rich in realness and honesty. It decides to invest much of it's time into real scenarios rather than provide back-story and character development.

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