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  Happy Christmas Festive Cheer
Year: 2014
Director: Joe Swanberg
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Chris Swanson, Eldar Kim, Megan Mercier, Chris Renton, Kris Swanberg, Jessica Angelos, Mike Brune, Harry Burton, Tony Castro, Ethan DeCota, Van Eggers, Matt Feasley
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jenny (Anna Kendrick) has recently broken up with her boyfriend and therefore decided to move out of her apartment and head off to Chicago to live with her brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg) for a while - she's not entirely sure how long - until she manages to find a new place. Jeff is married to Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and they have a small son to look after, so probably could do without another person in the house, but they are going to make the best of things regardless. Well, maybe not completely regardless, for there are areas of concern when it comes to Jenny, most blatantly when she goes out with her best friend Carson (Lena Dunham) to a party and gets absolutely blootered...

Happy Christmas, in spite of the title, turned out to be set around the festive season rather than yet another inane holiday flick cashing in on the celebrations without more thought to it other than making sure the gullible watched it under the impression they were somehow contributing to Yuletide rather than drawing in the unwary with lowest common denominator Christmas junk. There was all too much of that around, more as the years passed, much of it in the form of cheap, cynical TV movies, but this was about as far from that, other than the lack of budget, as it was possible to get in tone. It wasn't exactly Bad Santa, yet the mood of the end of the year was casually elicited, perhaps a little too casually.

That mood being the time you spent with your family; this could just as easily have been called Happy Thanksgiving as it was an American indie, and the message of having to tolerate your family with all their flaws and yours forced to be compatible for the duration of the Christmas period. In this case, it was exacerbated all the more since Jenny has more or less imposed herself on Jeff and Kelly, and though they are accomodating there's not always a lack of friction when they all have differing ideas of what they want out of life, the married couple looking to the future of their infant son, and Jenny fending it off for as long as possible: drinking herself into oblivion may not be a habit, but it is something she desires to avoid any iota of responsibility.

As with many a film directed by Joe Swanberg, this was improvised around a script that took the form of a loose outline, and for Anna Kendrick an interesting choice since she was the most famous person in the cast and could have been picking up a huge paycheque to appear as a superhero's girlfriend rather than appearing in a minor independent production that most of those who loved her in Pitch Perfect were not going to be in the slightest bit interested in. It was difficult to see how much she and her fellow actors brought of themselves to their roles, and you imagine there was a temptation not to create a character at all and instead fall back on their own personal quirks and traits - Dunham certainly came across as doing so - though Kendrick, albeit with a tendency to punctuate her sentences with "like" while she thought up her responses, created a credible role for herself.

That was to say, Jenny was a three-dimensional human being understandable even when she was being less than her sweet self and more selfish, as we could identify in the performance where she was sabotaging herself when others refused, however gently, to follow her will. On the other hand, Kendrick wasn't the scene stealer as that award went to Swanberg's tiny son Jude, who was the ideal improviser judging by the way he reacted to the entire situation as if it was all real, which to him it most likely was. Well, apart from one curious aspect, which saw Jenny make the minds of most of those around her turn to the sexual; her hosts' drug dealer Kevin (Mark Webber) is seduced by her in oddly offhand fashion, Kelly's writing career is reignited when Jenny suggests writing erotica for women, and even Jeff shows fresh interest in his unintentionally neglected wife, so there was the observation Jenny provided a positive influence. Yet there was a downside to being a free spirit as the final, painful scenes show, creeping towards redemption but realistic enough not to commit entirely.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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