A frustrating protagonist. This is about a young woman (Anna Kendrick) coming to stay with her older brother (Joe Swanberg) one Christmas to work through some of her personal demons, all the while continuing to make sizable mistakes in her personal life. I do have a respect for movies that can get by on a bare-bones budget, and this is most certainly that; you can tell that they used real homes and offices to film this in, likely where they had connections so they wouldn’t have to pay to shoot, and the most expensive thing here has got to be Anna Kendrick and renting the cameras. While I do admire films for breaking away from bloated Hollywood and working with limited resources, I have a huge disconnect when there is no point to your movie, and that is the biggest crime that Happy Christmas commits: it’s as aimless as a deaf, blind and drunk marksman.
If you are familiar with the word “mumblecore”, you’ll likely know what to expect here: dialogue that never sparkles, a directionless script and actors stepping all over each other’s lines. Taking a quick trip to Wikipedia, it comes as no surprise that the film’s dialogue was entirely improvised, and so much of this seems like there wasn’t a script at all, just a few loose ideas (you can tell how much of this was improvisation from the amount of riffing they do with an infant child). What does come as a surprise is that this is directed by Joe Swanberg, who did this song and dance much better in last year’s Drinking Buddies. I think where that has a leg up on this is that Drinking Buddies takes a pointed look on unhealthy relationships. This is just watching a vapid character self-destruct.
This feels like a student film at almost every turn. It’s about that rogue sister that you may or may not have, and all the bickering that she would do on a day to day basis. Adding insult to injury, there really isn’t a resolution to all of this, and like a lot of mumblecore movies, it kind of cuts off, as life continues on. Kendrick’s smile can only take a movie so far, and you can find something better to watch on Netflix.
Happy Christmas (2014) *1/2
– Critic for Hire