“Happy Christmas” – Joe Swanberg does his best Lena Dunham, and it works pretty well.
Written and directed by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, Melanie Lynskey, and Lena Dunham
“Happy Christmas” is the newest film from writer/ director Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”). Having just watched it, I can safely say that this movie was exactly what I thought it would be, but that is just fine. It is a movie (much like the aforementioned “Drinking Buddies”) about a group of close-knit thirty somethings who are struggling to discover their own identities.
The audience is presented with several micro-examples of human nature, in that every character in this film seems to have good intentions, but also suffer from a state of arrested development. You have Jeff (Swanberg) the loving father and husband who invited his sister to stay in their basement, but doesn’t have the guts to confront her when she gets black out drunk at a party and sleeps through her babysitting responsibilities. You have Kelly (Lynskey) the dutiful stay at home mother, who is discontent having given up her writing aspirations to assume the bulk of the child raising. And, of course there’s Jenny (Kendrick) who is a lot like many 27 year olds, with no career path, no solid relationships outside of her gal pal Carson (Played hilariously by Lena Dunham), and no ideas on what to do but smoke weed and start a romantic fling with the couple’s babysitter Kevin (Mark Webber).
And yet, Jeff is a very loving father to his son, as is Kelly a mother and wife. Jenny also has a positive contribution to make, by being the creative inspiration for Kelly’s next book. They are all doing something right. That is not the focus here though. The focus is instead on the struggle to transition into adulthood, and let go of youthful habits.
Swanberg decided to go with a largely improved script, which I feel like succeeded in some aspects, but may have needed a bit more written out dialogue. The whole cast here is fine though, and I really enjoyed miss Dunham’s performance as well…. herself. But hey, who doesn’t love an eccentric, odd, clever tattooed girl in their dramedy?
My favorite scenes in the film are of little Jude Swanberg (Joe’s real life two year old son) speaking in adorably broken baby talk, and mashing cereal into his own face. Most of the scenes between father and son are fun to watch, and I am sure would have my wife swooning “I want a baby!”. And, who among us that have had children don’t remember the wanting to feed everyone else in the room phase?
My final impression of “Happy Christmas” is that it felt a lot like a long episode of Dunham’s “Girls” with the series of awkward confrontations, and the humor found in adults not knowing how to be just that. It feels much closer to the real life, family drama we are almost all familiar with. The grass is always greener, I don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up, and at least my family is still here for me. Not Swanberg’s best (I loved “Drinking Buddies” and pretty much any horror film he has acted in), but certainly not bad. Worth a watch, especially as a date night movie that will have you and your significant other saying “That is so ‘Insert family member’s name here.'”.