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'Happy Christmas' review: A convincingly apathetic drama

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Happy Christmas

Rating:
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"Happy Christmas" begins its theatrical run in Houston starting today at Sundance Cinemas.

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"Happy Christmas" introduces Jenny (Anna Kendrick), a young woman in her late 20s who moves to Chicago to live in her older brother Jeff's (Joe Swanberg) basement. After going through a rough break-up, Jenny naturally clashes with Jeff's wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) as Jenny drinks until she passes out the first night she's there and Kelly's motherly instincts has her worrying about the well-being of her toddler son Jude (Jude Swanberg). Despite the two being very different, Jenny's presence and persuasion allows Kelly to become aware of the fact that certain things need to change if she really wants to be happy.

By now, especially after "Drinking Buddies," a Joe Swanberg project should mean an easy to swallow film that is naturally improvised that also effortlessly presents genuine characters. But the issue that always seems to arise is the fact that a Joe Swanberg film fails to be entertaining despite featuring dialogue that feels very authentic.

"Happy Christmas" is easy to comprehend. The small family of Jeff, Kelly, and Jude are very content with their lives and have a system that works for the three of them, but then Kelly is suddenly injected into their everyday lives and shakes things up in ways no one could imagine. The film pushes the drama into your lap as the comedy has more of an independent kind of tingling sensation to it since the humor is more about making you feel uncomfortable than causing uproarious laughter.

As an only child, the comedic drama didn't really speak to me as much as it should have. If you have siblings and or a small family, then the film will likely speak to you differently. Jenny is obviously going through a rough patch and how she's dealing with it isn't exactly ideal. It's as if she knows what she wants to do with her life, but doesn't know how to go about doing it. So Jenny flails about haphazardly without logic or reason. She succumbs to giving in to the things that will make her forget her current situation rather than focusing on what can help her take that next step forward.

Life getting in the way of what you had planned seems to be the message "Happy Christmas" is trying to portray. You may have a plan to do what you love, but life may have something else in mind for you. Sometimes you have to learn to make time to schedule what makes you happy to actually be happy and that's a lesson everyone can learn from.

"Happy Christmas" illustrates what it's like to crack under the pressure of a normal life. The conversations are very real, the atmosphere is extremely relaxed the majority of the time, and the characters are some of the most authentic to ever be put to film. But the film's humor misses the mark aside from the conversation about rosebuds and how to approach genital terminology in a romantic novel. It's as if the film isn't able to properly blend a fictional reality with entertainment, which results in a film that fails to fully entice the viewer.

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