Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Generally speaking, I’m not too fond of ‘Christmas in July!’ but thankfully Happy Christmas is far from A Holiday Film. Joe Swanberg’s light slice of life comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey is currently available on VOD and opened theatrically today.
Kendrick plays Jenny, the sister of Jeff (director Swanberg), she’s just had a bad breakup and is bunking in Jeff’s basement ostensibly there as an in-house babysitter for his two year old son while piecing her life back together. Jenny makes a terrible first impression with Jeff’s wife Kelly (Lynskey) by getting blackout drunk on her first night in town. At first viewing I was concerned that this would become a clichéd feud between the housewife and the messy sister-in-law, but refreshingly, Swanberg doesn’t go there. The result is a couple of thoroughly authentic female characters at very different points in their lives. While Kelly is at first wary of finding Jenny once again drinking with friend Carson (Lena Dunham) in their basement, the two convince her to share a beer with them and begin one of many of the film’s brilliantly natural conversations.
Not much older than Jenny, Kelly seems to everyone to be an actual grown up but Kelly is revealed to be reluctant about taking on the role of the stay-at-home mom. Her position has in many ways prevented her from pursuing her novelist career and she finds the younger women to be an outlet to which she can finally voice her concerns. For their part, Jenny and Carson see their presence as the opportunity Kelly needs to share some of her responsibilities and finally pursue her own goals. Despite some naivete about being a working writer, Jenny actually does reignite some inspiration that Kelly needed.
Swanberg is also charming as Jeff, whose laid back demeanor is finally stretched to its limits by his younger sister but the film truly belongs to its leading ladies. Your enjoyment of Kendrick’s performance may vary by your tolerance for the over usage of the word “like” in sentences, as for me, Jenny feels completely authentic to like, many people I know. Lynskey too is impressive for the vulnerability she brings to Kelly when she may have been a stick-in-the-mud. All of the cast are additionally helped out by Swanberg’s two year old Jude, who wholly steals the screen from his adult co-stars just by being an unscripted little kid.
None of the characters’ difficulties are ever completely fixed per se by the film’s conclusion, but there’s a genuine sense of warmth within this family unit not often felt in actual holiday films.