Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joe Swanberg's HAPPY CHRISTMAS: holiday mumblecore & the screen's most adorable baby

After the enormous success (everything's relative, right?) of his Drinking Buddies, Joe Swanberg offers up another surprise with his latest effort, a charming little trinket titled HAPPY CHRISTMAS. Catering to ever starrier casts, the filmmaker toplines Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham and Anna Kendrick (making her second appearance in a Swanberg film) -- plus a newcomer who steals the picture right out from under the rest of the cast. That would be Joe's own kid, little Jude Swanberg, a "natural," if I've ever seen one.

The "plot" has Jeff (Swanberg, at right) and wife Kelly (Lynskey) and baby Jude preparing for the holidays, as Jeff's sister Jenny (Kendrick, below) arrives to move in with them. Somewhat irresponsible, Jenny causes problems big and small as she reunites with old friend Carson (Dunham), romances with new friend Kevin (Webber, below), and helps Kelly write her romance novel. That's pretty much it. But the actors are so nicely attuned to each other that watching and listening to them is great fun. And any and every chance we get to observe adorable little Jude proves beyond pleasurable.

Mr. Swanberg has now moved mumblecore into the hipster mainstream; each new his film of his grows more fun. Here, he keeps his m'core bona fides bright and sharp, while adding mainstream sure-fires like children and dogs.

I am not certain that this is quite the way best-selling books are created, but as shown here -- with Lynskey, Kendrick and Dunham doing pro work -- it sure makes for a lot of fun. (Do stay all the way to the end of the end credits for an extra helping.)

Swanberg himself (shown above, right, with Lynskey) is growing into an actor of surprising charm and low-key sex appeal. He carries this movie as easily as do his better-known co-stars, while drawing completely natural performances from every one of them.

Happy Christmas is a little holiday bauble, bright and assured and silly as can be. And very enjoyable.  The film, from Magnolia Pictures and running just 78 minutes, opens this Friday, July 25, in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and here in New York City (and elsewhere) the following Friday, August 1 -- after playing VOD since the end of June. You can view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here.

No comments: