Joe Swanberg’s unscripted films, like Drinking Buddies, are pleasant enough, but they make a strong case
for the art of screenwriting. With likable actors improvising their dialogue,
based on Swanberg’s story outline, Happy
Christmas has engaging moments but left me vaguely dissatisfied. And good
as the actors are (Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber,
and Swanberg himself) the picture is stolen right out from under them by the
director’s adorable 2-year-old son Jude. The camera loves him.
Swanberg and Lynskey play the happily married parents of
that toddler. Just in time for the holidays, Swanberg’s sister (Kendrick) moves
in; she’s gone through a bad patch and this will be her safe harbor. What’s
more, she’ll be able to help out by taking care of the kid. At least, that’s
the plan, until she and her pal (Dunham) go partying one night and get
Ultimately, the film attempts to deal with female roles in
our society, and how women find themselves pigeonholed, at home and in the
workplace. One key dialogue scene with Kendrick, Lynskey, and Dunham is
especially thought-provoking, but it seems more purposeful than organic.
Amiable but borderline-boring at times, Happy Christmas is an exemplar
of DIY moviemaking. Swanberg has talent, and some good ideas, but they
beg to be fleshed out with a solid script.