This review originally appeared on ScreenPicks.com
The struggle of our twenties is a subject that we can’t seem to get away from. This isn’t a bad thing, merely an observation. And it makes sense – today’s young adults are unable to escape the reality that is under/unemployment, technology that keeps us constantly connected, and the assumption that we’re somehow supposed to know exactly what we want and how to get it, in spite of an ever-changing landscape. Pitfalls are everywhere, and finding comfort and love is harder than you might think. This need to find ourselves in one another is a central theme of Happy Christmas.
Joe Swanberg’s follow-up to Drinking Buddies has quite a bit in common with its predecessor: Improvised dialogue, a lot of alcohol, and Anna Kendrick, of course. This time, Kendrick leads the show as Jenny, a 27-year-old with no job or home to speak of, who comes to Chicago to live with her brother, sister-in-law, and nephew after a break-up. Jenny is a solid representation of a 20-something who isn’t quite ready to grow up, but due to the loose script, there isn’t much in the way of exposition.
Jenny feels incomplete in some ways, though it’s hard to tell what made her that way. Part of it is certainly her inability to trust, and feeling deceived and let down by men. We don’t know much about her last boyfriend, only that she thought he was cheating, and when she let herself connect with the affable Kevin (Mark Webber), she immediately recoiled as soon as she felt these same insecurities begin to emerge in herself again.
A film like this is truly dependent upon the actors and the characters that they play. And with a cast of five (six if you count baby Jude), that’s a lot of weight to carry. Comedy-wise, Jude surpasses the rest. He made every character (and every audience member) burst out laughing each time he was on screen. Swanberg (as Jenny’s brother, Jeff) provided a few comedic moments himself, especially while interacting with Jude, proving that the funniest moments cannot be planned for. Carson (Lena Dunham), had a few delightfully entertaining quips. Her signature “put your foot in your mouth” style was much less annoying her than with her Girls character.
But emotionally, the plot was driven by Jenny and her sister-in-law, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). Initially, there was animosity between the two due to Jenny’s irresponsible actions, but their relationship turned out to be a beautiful one. The story was truly Jenny’s, but Kelly’s tale is another popular one – an artist who attempts to balance having a family and pursuing her dreams. And in my opinion, the best scenes without Jude were those where Jenny and Kelly (and sometimes Carson) were discussing the erotic novel that would make Kelly enough money to write the novel she really wanted to write.
In traditional Mumblecore style, there isn’t a true resolution to the film. And if you’re trying to find a clear message or moral, you’re out of luck here. Nevertheless, Happy Christmas is a charming look at the struggles we face entering adulthood, whether we are dragging our heels at the idea of growing up, or eagerly meeting it head on.