Viennale 2014 – Day 8: Happy Christmas

Happy ChristmasHappy Christmas
USA 2014
Written by Joe Swanberg
Directed by Joe Swanberg

“Happy Christmas” is the second movie where I later found out that it was either already or imminently available on DVD; would I have known that before, I probably wouldn’t have gotten tickets at the Viennale for it (especially since this was one of my few weekday-afternoon-showings, which meant that I had to take the day off). However, in contrast to “To Kill A Man”, I liked “Happy Christmas”, so at least I was entertained. It’s nothing special, but a nice little addition to the ever-growing list of Christmas-themed movies.

Two words of warning, though: “Happy Christmas” is another one of those mumblecore films that deal with “first world problems” of well-situated people, and it also features Lena Dunham in a supporting role. I’m only mentioning the latter because I noticed that she’s become a very divisive figure, furiously hated by some with whom just mentioning her name is enough to get them rumbling; for those, her sheer presence in this movie will probably be enough to discourage them from watching it. And to be fair, her scenes definitely have a certain “Lena Dunham-ness” to them (which is not surprising given the typical mumblecore trait of improvising most of the dialogue). However, I have no problem with her, and even though I definitely don’t agree with everything that she says and don’t necessarily love everything that she does, I think that she’s a valuable young voice that has just the same right to be heard as everyone else.

There are certain things that I love about mumblecore-movies that are also present here. For example, everyone and everything looks, sounds, and feels very authentic. The dialogues seem to come straight out of life, and the actors and actresses also look mostly like regular, everyday people (with the possible exception of Anna Kendrick, who does stand out as a “starlet” a little bit; but that may very well have been intentional). One potential drawback of movies like that is that they’re usually dealing with rather mundane stuff, and it can be a little difficult to relate to the characters, especially when mumblecore gets fused with a slacker movie. Which is also partially the case here with Jenny, who mostly stands in her own way. However, at least with me it’s not that I flat-out hate characters and/or movies like that; it’s more of a tricky balance, and IMHO more often than not, “Happy Christmas” gets it right. Anyway, I really loved the authentic feel of the movie.

One thing that I thought was a little strange was how big of a deal everyone made when they had to pick up Jenny, who got completely wasted on her first day with her brother. Now, I get it, it’s not necessarily mature behavior. And yes, if someone does that every fucking night at her age, it’s a little pathetic and worrisome. But given the fact that this was the first occurrence as well as that she just got dumped by her boyfriend, I found her reaction understandable, and didn’t quite see what the big problem was. I do firmly believe that even when you’re getting older, you have the right to let yourself go once in a while. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s not something that happens all the time. Just because you get older and more mature doesn’t mean that you can’t act like a kid or an irresponsible teenager from time to time. Then again, there may be some prior history between the characters which didn’t get laid out, which might have explained their reaction.

Apart from that, however, I really liked the movie. Especially since it evades the trap of getting too melodramatic. Yes, as you pretty much expect from the beginning, something happens where Jenny again acts very irresponsibly, which could have led to dire consequences, but ultimately, nothing overly catastrophic happened, and I liked that after the first shock subsided everyone calmed down again. Thus, there never was this seemingly insurmountable breach between them, which then would have been rectified by a huge gesture on Jennys part – as would probably have happpened in the clichéd Hollywood-version of this story. I also loved how women-centric the movie was. The chemistry between Jenny, Kelly and Carson was great, they were very believable as sisters-in-law/friends. Finally, I liked that as disruptive as Jennys appearance may be, the movie ultimately proves that sometimes it can be a good thing when your life gets shaken up a little. Overall, it’s not an instant Christmas classic, but if you’re not mumblecore- or Lena Dumham-averse, “Happy Christmas” should entertain you well enough.


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