It’s ironic. I guess.
20-something Jenny (Anna Kendrick) is a bit of a wreck right now in her life. Not only did her boyfriend just break up with her, but due to emotional problems of hers beyond comprehension, she’s decide to move the ‘eff out and stay with her brother (Joe Swanberg) and his sometimes writer, sometimes stay-at-home momma, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). Though her brother is fine with her being around and watching over his child, his wife isn’t so keen on the idea, due to the fact that she feels like Jenny is a bit too immature to really put another life ahead of herself. Some part of her is right; other parts of her isn’t. But over time, the two get to connect, talk about life, and eventually get Kelly back into her writing-process, with Jenny right by her side, feeding her idea, after idea, after idea. It’s a neat process that gets Kelly all wrapped up in something that isn’t watching over her kid and having to stay at home all day, and keeps Jenny away from her personal problems, or her feelings to a new guy she meets (Mark Webber).
Not only was I happy to see that last year’s Drinking Buddies, was actually a good movie, but that it began to bring some more exposure to the undeniable and creative talents that are Joe Swanberg. Sure, the guy’s been around for quite some time and it’s not like people haven’t ever heard of him before, but outside of the usual, movie-geek crowd, a name like “Joe Swanberg” wasn’t officially known, or on somebody’s radar. Hell, I don’t even think it is now, but at least they know a little thing or two about what this guy does behind the camera and the constant movies he churns out, once and sometimes even twice, a year.
That said, something like Drinking Buddies, is something that Happy Christmas is not, in that they are both simple premises, but actually feel like they’re building towards something, rather than just more scenes of people talking about whatever the hell the discussion of the hour is at that given moment. Here, there’s not much of a central-conflict, and I was fine with that, however, it did make me wonder what the main problem of this whole movie was going to be. Was it going to be that either Jenny can’t seem to settle down in her life, or, is that she causes too much of a ruckus at a house where a quiet, relatively safe family lives?
It’s never made abundantly clear where this movie’s going to go, or what sort of path it’s going to take, which I commend on Swanberg’s part. He could have easily made this movie a conventional “battle of the sister-in-laws”, but he doesn’t. He ops instead for showing us real ladies, who feel real pain and have real wants and needs that aren’t just sitting at home, watching over their young ones, and cooking dinner, while their hubby gets to do everything he wants to do with his job, his money, and maybe even possibly, his own mistress. But that aside, what I’m trying to say is that Swanberg goes for actually explaining who these characters are, rather than what they could be in the face of a plot that changes.
Which, honestly, is sort of why this film just isn’t as interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie, but there’s just a feeling that Swanberg was a little too relaxed with his filming here and much rather just wanted to hang out with Anna Kendrick again. Can’t say I blame him too much, but when it’s at our expense and we aren’t the ones actually “hanging around with” Anna Kendrick, it can seem to be a bit of a bore. Not to mention that the movie never really seems to care about whose story it’s exploring – most of it wants to just be about Jenny and the problems she’s facing in this time of need, yet, also wants to have it another way and much rather focus on Kelly and her “problems” with motherhood and losing her inspiration for her creative-expression. It’s not that neither stories aren’t interesting, it’s just that there’s not much of a focus on either of them, nor does Swanberg really make it seem like he wants to go anywhere with them. It’s just like life, but maybe a little bit too much of so.
But with that said, both of these women character’s are performed very well by both Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey respectively. Lynskey herself hardly ever gets a chance to fully unveil the true talents she has hiding underneath those lovely looks of hers, and it’s nice to see a lot of that “average-lady” persona come out here. She’s good at it and it feels like she’s an actual mom who has responsibilities on her plate and doesn’t want to screw it up. Yet, at the same time, she wouldn’t mind having a little bit of “alone time” either, just so that she can gather her thoughts and feel somewhat sane for a second. Like how I imagined my mom must have acted when she was raising me.
With more downing of Scotch, of course. But that’s another story, for another day.
But the one who really makes this movie work so well is Anna Kendrick herself, and it’s hard to be surprised about that. Kendrick uses her lovable, sometimes ditsy charm the only way she knows how to and it’s absolutely lovely to watch. Also not to mention that it feels so incredibly natural, that when she has to use all of this everyday lingo like “like”, or “uhm…so…yeah”, it doesn’t feel forced or thrown upon us to make us see how real this material is. She sells it like that and if Swanberg wants to keep on making movies with her for the rest of his life, I’m totally fine with that.
Just give me something of a better movie is all and we’ll be fine.
Consensus: Feels less thought-out than past movies, Happy Christmas finds writer/director Joe Swanberg spinning around in circles, figuring out what to film about, and instead, just focuses enough on his characters and the cast to make it worth while, if only slightly.
6.5 / 10 = Rental!!