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Film Review: ‘Happy Christmas’ is Au Naturale for Good or for Bland

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – One thing that struck me about writer/director Joe Swanberg’s previous “Drinking Buddies,” and made it one of my more celebrated from 2013 despite not really loving it as a film, was its importance to those good ol’ independent movies. Here were big flashy stars like Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick, not just acting in a movie of a lower budget, but creating a wider appeal out of a previously very niche aspect, without the film form itself changing much.

HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

As much as it may have been marketed as a hipper romantic comedy, the movie had the naturalism of the same types of films that are made with a five-person crew, and are only shown in urban art houses for a week. The only thing really different about “Drinking Buddies” was that it featured Olivia Wilde playing the role usually reserved for the director’s friend’s girlfriend’s friend’s father’s cousin’s sister’s brother’s roommate.

Joe Swanberg’s latest release of the same star wattage (though not his direct followup to “Drinking Buddies,” as there have been 401 films in between these two) is “Happy Christmas,” an even lower-fi story than “Drinking Buddies,” steered even more by the casting that it was able to assemble. However, with this movie Swanberg doesn’t so much worry about having to make a story that could be confused with a more mainstream romantic comedy if it were to have a bigger budget.

“Happy Christmas” follows a subtle narrative that may seem like a very real piece of domestic drama to anyone. Jenny (Anna Kendrick) crashes at the home of her brother (Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), and their son Jude (Jude Swanberg). She’s just gone through a bad breakup, and is attempting to pull herself together. She spends time with her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), and catches the eye of a guy named Kevin (Mark Webber).

Jenny creates tension with her hosts after her irresponsible behavior puts their house at risk. Meanwhile, Kelly seeks to liberate herself from the constant pressures of taking care of her son by working on a new novel.

“Happy Christmas” continues its limited release in Chicago on July 25th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, and Jude Swanberg. Written and directed by Joe Swanberg. Rated “R”

StarClick here to read Nick Allen’s full review of “Happy Christmas”

Happy Christmas
Anna Kendrick, Lena Dunham and Jude Swanberg in ‘Happy Christmas’
Photo credit: Magnolia

StarClick here to read Nick Allen’s full review of “Happy Christmas”

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