Liz’s Review: Joe Swanberg’s Not So ‘Happy Christmas’

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Drinking Buddies was on my Top 10 list of Films for 2013. It was refreshing to see Olivia Wilde cast against her “usual type”, and thank God for that. She is incredibly talented. Jake Johnson is always funny. The two together, completely believable best friends with an edge. What was awkward in Drinking Buddies is still awkward in Joe Swanberg’s latest improv driven film, Happy Christmas. That something is Anna Kendrick.

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The plot centers around a young twenty-something girl who’s bad breakup leads her to move in with her brother, sister-in-law, and their two year old son. Proving to be inept at any hour of the day, Kendrick’s character falters through a ludacris hook-up with family babysitter/pot dealer, drunkenly puts others in danger, causing the audience to shake their heads and scream, ” Geez, get it together!” (But on the inside.)

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I’m a huge fan of her in films such as Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect, but for some reason I found her character to read false and most definitely unsympathetic. The performance felt borderline lazy. Maybe I should blame the real culprit here, Swanberg. Direct the poor girl. I adore the idea of a mostly improvised script, that is admirable, but come on. Some of my favorite scenes involved Jude, the two year old real life son of Swanberg. You know darn well a hammy kid is comedy gold, but that shouldn’t be my biggest takeaway.

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Thankfully, it wasn’t. A side plot brought to life by the unstoppable Melanie Lynskey, is to be applauded. Her honesty and genuine introspection is what makes this movie watchable. Kendrick assists her in the transition from stay at home mom, to sophomore novelist with a new genre; bawdy romance. These scenes are hands down the best, only to be improved by the presence of Lena Dunham, as Kendrick’s hometown friend. She and Lynskey are a knee-slapping duo on screen. The movie I wanted to ultimately watch was one where Lynskey and Dunham take Jude somewhere strangely inappropriate and continue to discuss the dialogue in her upcoming softcore porn book. To me, that’s a riotous good time.

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It’s tough to grade Happy Christmas. The locations are relatively mundane, the script is a mess,  and I truly did want to like it. If anything, go for Melanie, go for Lena, and go for Baby Jude, that delicious Christmas ham.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS arrives in theaters Friday, August 1st.

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

One Reply to “Liz’s Review: Joe Swanberg’s Not So ‘Happy Christmas’”

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