FILM REVIEW | Happy Christmas
Jeff and Kelly are trying are trying to do a balancing act juggling their freelance careers whilst bringing up their 2year old son Jude.
It’s slightly off kilter right now as Jeff is managing to work on pre-production of his next movie, but Kelly has got writer’s block since she completed her first book so has settled for full-time homemaking for the time being. The couple is however quite happy and things are going along relatively smoothly until they get a holiday visit that shatters their peace and throws the household into disarray.
The visitor is Jeff’s rather volatile sister Jenny who’s just had a bad breakup with her latest boyfriend and she flies into town for some much needed TLC, in return for helping them out with some childcare. It is soon apparent that self-absorbed Jenny is incapable of looking after herself let alone a small helpless baby. On her first night, she goes to a party with an old friend and gets so totally wasted and passes out that Jeff is forced to go collect her in the middle of the night.
The next time Jenny gets totally drunk is when she is babysitting young Jude at home and this time she almost manages to burn the whole house down. It then takes a lot of persuading on Jeff’s part to convince his very sceptical wife to give her sister-in-law another chance. Kelly does eventually reluctantly agree and the two women very slowly start to bond. Jenny actually encourages her to her back to writing by telling her to set aside her planned second novel and instead write a sexually explicit trashy novel to make some fast ready money.
Suddenly Jenny has a purpose too and she looks less likely to self-destruct and even grabs herself a new beau and starts to date the family babysitter (and pot dealer) Kevin and surprisingly looks that she might live happily ever after all. Possibly.
This is the latest movie from prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg who as usual directs, writes and stars in it too. I will confess that I am a fan as even when the plots are slight (as this one is) there is a cast of well-rounded characters whose interplay with each other as they cope (and enjoy) their daily existence makes for fascinating viewing. Swanberg injects it all with his own tempered sense of humour, and in this instance is aided by the presence of Lena Dunham playing Carson, Jenny’s best friend. But then he always shrewdly casts his movies with what appear to be his mates Melanie Lynskey as Kelly, Anna Kendrick as Jenny and Mark Webber as Kevin.
I’m generally on the same page as Charles Laughton when it comes to children in movies, but even I could not help but be seduced by scene-stealing baby Jude played by Swanberg’s own son.
After last year’s Drinking Buddies this is probably Swanberg’s second most accessible work to date and part of his continued evolving from a filmmaker once known as the king of mumblecore. Long may it continue.