Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, Jude Swanberg
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Synopsis: After a break up, Jenny moves in with writer Kelly, her filmmaker husband and their child. Despite a rocky start, Jenny’s influence helps Kelly realise that an evolution in her career and relationship is necessary for her happiness.
I absolutely loved Joe Swanberg’s previous effort “Drinking Buddies” which was fun, poignant at times and had a great chemistry between Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson. I have to admit that I had no other knowledge of Swanberg, so when I heard about his latest effort, “Happy Christmas” I was quietly excited. I have to say it treads the same kind of improvised line as Drinking Buddies, but is no where near as accomplished.
The story revolves around Anna Kendrick’s character Jenny coming to live with her brother and his wife and son (played by Joe Swanberg, Melanie Lynskey and Swanberg’s own son Jude). Jenny is young, selfish and immature compared to the family who are rooted in parental responsibility. She is soon in the bad books for getting wasted at a party, leaving Kelly a little uneasy leaving the baby in her care. Over time the dynamic shifts slightly as Jenny encourages Kelly to carry on her writing career.
The film is shot using 16mm film and the quality of the lighting is pretty bad, akin to an average home movie a lot of the time. I know lo-fi is Swanberg’s trademark but, having shot Drinking Buddies on digital, this seems like a poor decision. The mostly improvised acting is OK but does start to grate a little. Personally I watch a movie because I want a slice of make believe sometimes, and this quest for something to be as real as can be seems to go against why we love cinema.
The acting varies in quality as much as the footage. Melanie Lynskey is good, Kendrick only OK (having to improvise didn’t seem to bring out the best in her) and Swanberg is capable in his role. The undoubted standout in the whole movie, no joke, is actually two year old Jude Swanberg who quite frankly is hilarious. Which just goes to show that maybe improvising should be left to he kids and scripts used for the adults.
Having loved Drinking Buddies it’s clear that Joe Swanberg is a talented director, but like the criticisms directed at Ryan Adams, maybe he is too prolific for his own good. Apparently this is his twelfth movie in about eight years. Maybe some quality control is needed?