By Don Simpson | May 20, 2014
The most prolific filmmaker of the “mumblecore” generation, Joe Swanberg follows his biggest theatrical success (Drinking Buddies) with a grainy 16mm ode to the 1970s films of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. His first film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Happy Christmas features Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham and Swanberg.
Synopsis: Jeff (Joe Swanberg) works as a filmmaker in Chicago, while his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) stays at home in order to raise their two-year-old son, Jude (Jude Swanberg). Kelly, a published novelist, all but abandoned her career to become a stay at home mother because they could not afford daycare. Now, it seems Kelly is getting the itch to write again, but constantly struggles to find the time and energy to do so. The arrival of Jeff’s younger sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick), into their household offers the possibility of a live-in babysitter, that is if the twentysomething is ready for that responsibility.
One of writer-director Joe Swanberg’s most personal films, Happy Christmas functions as a loving ode to his wife Kris Swanberg, who put her creative career on the back burner following the birth of their son, Jude. Unabashedly a woman-centered film, Happy Christmas is a story of female empowerment as Kelly navigates her way to becoming more than just a mother. Swanberg intelligently discusses some of the challenges that creative (read: financially insecure) parents might face while trying to raise a young child.
Swanberg presents two devastatingly authentic female characters who may have been roughly outlined by the writer-director, but were fully colored in by Melanie Lynskey and Anna Kendrick. The result is a beautiful and loving portrait of these two women, warts and all. Lynskey’s report with Jude is excellent, allowing him to steal any of the scenes that they share. Then again, with Jude’s inherent comedic talent, the two-year-old steals every scene in which he appears. Acting totally against type, Kendrick nails the fatalistic descent into uncontrollable drunkenness just as adroitly as she does the incomparable agony of the next morning’s hangover.
Magnolia Pictures will release Happy Christmas on iTunes/OnDemand June 26, 2014 and in theaters July 25, 2014.