Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Thoughts ‘14—Happy Christmas (2014) ***

R, 82 min.
Director/Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Linskey, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Jude Swanberg

Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” is not going to be the next holiday classic. In fact, I’m guessing it’s the type of movie people don’t really want to see for the holidays, which might explain its summer theatrical release date. And yet, it has come out on home video formats just in time to remind us of the things we don’t necessarily appreciate as much as we should during the holidays—our relatives.

They say we can’t chose who we love. That is especially true when it comes to family. “Happy Christmas” examines a relationship between a grown brother and sister and more importantly her sister-in-law. The sister has just ended a long relationship and the brother has invited her to come live with his family for the holiday season. The brother has a year-old baby. The sister-in-law is a writer who had a successful first novel published just before having the baby.

The sister, moving from New York to Chicago, is a mess. Drinking is an immediate issue and the sister-in-law questions her husband’s idea that his sister might be able to watch the kid occasionally so she can write. They eventually start to learn how to deal with each other and the two women start writing a romance novel together. That doesn’t mean that the typical family problems are over. Family will always be difficult to deal with, even when they get along.

Writer/director Joe Swanberg does a very good job capturing accurate family dynamics here, especially between the two women, who want to connect with each other but must get past their difference first. Swanberg also plays the brother and husband. His level headedness allows the women to explore their relationship more fully than we might see in a real family. I’d think the sister would get under her brother’s skin just a little more than she does here. Anna Kendrick provides an interesting and original portrait of the sister, who doesn’t seem very willing to embrace her adult responsibilities, most likely the reason for the end of her relationship that sets the events in motion.

Since the movie doesn’t really focus on the holiday season, it isn’t important that it be watched during the Christmas season. It’s much more about the relationships involved. Christmas only really factors into the notion that it is a difficult time for the new family financially and one development with a new boyfriend for the sister. It is primarily a drama that deals with relationships that could occur at any time of year. That’s not to say the Christmas setting isn’t effective in getting across those relationships in a more immediate and urgent manner. I suppose the holidays are good for that type of thing.

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