Joe Swanberg’s unscripted films, like Drinking Buddies, are pleasant enough, but they make a strong case for the art of screenwriting. With likable actors improvising their dialogue, based on Swanberg’s story outline, Happy Christmas has engaging moments but left me vaguely dissatisfied. And good as the actors are (Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber, and Swanberg himself) the picture is stolen right out from under them by the director’s adorable 2-year-old son Jude. The camera loves him.
Swanberg and Lynskey play the happily married parents of that toddler. Just in time for the holidays, Swanberg’s sister (Kendrick) moves in; she’s gone through a bad patch and this will be her safe harbor. What’s more, she’ll be able to help out by taking care of the kid. At least, that’s the plan, until she and her pal (Dunham) go partying one night and get thoroughly wasted.
Ultimately, the film attempts to deal with female roles in our society, and how women find themselves pigeonholed, at home and in the workplace. One key dialogue scene with Kendrick, Lynskey, and Dunham is especially thought-provoking, but it seems more purposeful than organic.
Amiable but borderline-boring at times, Happy Christmas is an exemplar of DIY moviemaking. Swanberg has talent, and some good ideas, but they beg to be fleshed out with a solid script.