Happy Christmas – Joe Swanberg, 15, 2014
Netflix rates it: 1.5/5
I rate it: 3/5
Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas follows irresponsible 27-year-old Jenny (Anna Kendrick) as she moves to Chicago to live with her brother (Joe Swanberg) and his family. The film documents her self-destructive nature and the problems this causes for everyone in her life.
Kendrick portrays Jenny well, showing her annoying yet perky personality to its fullest extent. Her character is clearly selfish, naïve, and irresponsible, which makes her easy to dislike. However, this reflects positively on Kendrick’s performance as the character is clearly intended to display these qualities. The use of alcohol and drugs to escape her self-created problems shows the difference between her and the older adults she is living with, at one point her brother even commenting, “it’s the behaviour of an incredibly immature person.” There is a lighter side to her though; she has endless youthful exuberance, which her brother’s wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) even comments on as having changed her outlook for the better at one point. Such a detailed character is nice to see, and is a real testament to Kendrick’s acting ability.
It is unfortunate that Happy Christmas is deceptive in its name as there really is not much focus on the holiday itself. Instead, director and writer Swanberg focuses in depth on the characters and their personal lives in a way mostly unrelated to Christmas. There is evidence of it being the festive season throughout the film, with Christmas lights decorating the streets, however, the characters seem much more focused on other things and the build up to Christmas is not seen here as it usually is in festive holiday films. There is arguably not enough focus on festivities for the film to be advertised as a ‘Christmas film,’ which could cause disappointment if looking for a cheerful, relaxing film for the countdown to Christmas. Additionally, the film suffers slightly from its lack of consistent plot, as it seems to follow the characters around without a definitive goal or storyline. However, the shaky documentary-style film shots and plentiful improvisation of lines suggests that Happy Christmas is not supposed to be focused on one specific storyline, so depending on the viewer’s taste in film style the lack of plot is not necessarily a bad thing.
Despite the lack of holiday cheer, it is interesting and refreshing to see a Christmas film straying from the norm – it certainly is distinctive when compared with the sea of traditional Christmas films available.
Although probably most likely to be watched during the Christmas season, Happy Christmas contains a small enough dose of festivity to be watched at any point during the year. The dialogue is naturally witty and realistic (and often pretty awkward) as a lot of the speech was improvised by the cast, so there is an increased sense of realism in the conversations on screen which is entertaining to see. Overall, the relatable characters and great cast make it a worthwhile watch, even if the title is slightly misleading with regards to the main plot of the film.