Tuesday 9 December 2014

Happy Christmas (2014)

Writer-director Joe Swanberg is quite a prolific guy. The last film that I saw from him was Drinking Buddies, which I found to be okay. With an interesting, and diverse, filmography, Swanberg is probably most associated with films that are labelled as "mumblecore" - films with very naturalistic styles and sometimes non-professional actors mixed in. You won't find any major set-pieces in mumblecore movies. The focus is, instead, on the everyday struggles that people go through, the decisions they make and the repercussions of those decisions. Or, as I like to think of them, some Swanberg movies are like feature-length equivalents of Seinfeld episodes. Without the humour. I know that sounds horrible, but it's not really. I'm just emphasising that movies don't have to be about anything in particular.

Swanberg also stars here as Jeff, a young man happily settled down with Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). The two have a baby and they're also about to welcome a new arrival . . . . . . . . in the shape of Jeff's younger sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick). Jenny has recently split up from her boyfriend and is relocating, which means that she needs a temporary place to live. But it's not long until she shows that she's not always the most considerate person, which causes a few problems as the household tries to adjust to the new situation.

I can't criticise the acting here. Swanberg is solid enough, Kendrick and Lynskey are both as fantastic as they always are, and there are decent supporting turns from Lena Dunham, as Jenny's friend, and Mark Webber, as a man who Jenny may want to get to know a bit better.

It's just everything else that's the problem. None of the characters are that interesting, nothing about the situation creates the tension that Swanberg must think it creates, and a number of moments just feel unnecessary, which is surprising in a movie that only runs for about 80 minutes. It's not that there aren't moments of, say, confrontation. It's just that they don't seem symptomatic of anything major under the surface. Jeff and Kelly are a loving couple who are trying to balance their lives. Kendrick is a bit young and irresponsible. Oh no, good god, how will this group even get through a week together? People drink, sometimes to excess, and people smoke pot. Those things may have been more frowned upon decades ago, but they will barely cause people to so much as blink nowadays.

I've probably given the impression that I really disliked this movie. That's not true. I just didn't like it all that much. It's so just . . . . . . . . . . . . there . . . . . . . . that I can't bring myself to have any strong feelings about it whatsoever. You'd have a better chance of rallying around a group of people to help protest against the colour beige.

Swanberg has talent. There are often, at the very least, individual moments in his scripts that make that much clear. And he knows how to get great, naturalistic performances from his cast. Hell, he's a decent actor in his own right, and good on him for wearing so many hats at the same time without everything turning to complete crap. I just prefer it when he also seems to have something to say, and that wasn't the case here.



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