Christmas season has officially begun. There is a nip in the air, stores have Christmas decorations out and I have received my first Christmas video to review. It was a gentle start as this one is not your traditional Christmas film in that it really has nothing to do with that holiday other than a couple of scenes of gift wrapping, gift opening and a decorated tree in the background. Thankfully a full on seasonal assault did not happen.
The low, low budget film by screenwriter/director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies,V/H/S) which sees the late twenty-something Jenny (Anna Kendrick – Pitch Perfect, Life After Beth) after having broken up with her boyfriend travels to Chicago to move in with her older brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey – from television’s Two and a Half Men) and two year old son. Jeff and Kelly’s calm existence gets a severe shaking up with the arrival of Jenny.
Jenny does not seem to have a job so she spends most of her time online, drinking, hanging out with her friend Carson (Lena Dunham – from television’s Girls), smoking pot, sleeping off hangovers, and sort of seeing Jeff and Kelly’s babysitter, Kevin (Mark Webber – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Boiler Room). In other words she doesn’t do much. Just her presence though puts in motion some things like when she almost sets fire to the house, gets so wrecked at a party that Jeff has to pick her up at a party and prods Kelly, a novelist, to write a romance novel in order to make some money. Life after Jenny is not the same as it was before. Better or worse, that is yet to be decided.
A big part of the American mumblecore movement, Joe Swanberg has made a few solid films in the genre. Seemingly important things like a lack of money don’t seem to deter this guy; he just plods forward and a film is made. The beauty of his films are that they are rather simple storywise and to follow, but if you so wish you can plunge yourself into the considerable depth down below the surface. Besides his ability to bring to the screen a seemingly everyday slice of life and making it interesting enough to watch, he is able to attract quality actors like Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham and Anna Kendrick to his films. Strong acting is a must in these semi-structured or scripted and partially improv productions. The actors require the confidence and ability to be able to think on their feet and react to whatever the other actors throw at them while keeping everything believable and moving forward. While Lena Dunham has a rather small role as the best friend, Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey really are the stars. The film will either succeed or fail based on their performances and they are both up to the task.
Though I did enjoy the film I was left a little disappointed at the end. A lot had been left out, unsaid or unexplored in my opinion. If you are familiar with Joe Swanberg’s work then you know that this is his modus operandi. He certainly does not believe in spoon feeding the viewer which is great though at times this is his biggest fault because you are left feeling a little unfulfilled at the end of it all.
If you are a fan of conventional films or ones with high production values then maybe this is not the one for you. Happy Christmas certainly is anything but conventional.