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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Happy Christmas movie review: can’t choose your family

Happy Christmas green light

Compulsively watchable. Joe Swanberg is a master of the subtlest of dramatic observation, and his films are unlike anything other filmmakers are giving us right now.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Writer-director Joe Swanberg follows up last year’s marvelous slice-of-life romantic dramedy Drinking Buddies with another compulsively watchable film in which not all that much really happens and you nevertheless cannot look away. Jenny (Anna Kendrick: Pitch Perfect) just broke up with her boyfriend, so she decides to start over in Chicago, and comes to stay with her brother, Jeff (Swanberg: You’re Next); his wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey: They Came Together); and their toddler (Jude Swanberg, the filmmaker’s own son). (It’s Christmastime, but you’d barely know it; holiday clichés are nowhere to be found.) Jenny is kind of a fuckup — a normal human condition few films grant to women — and upsets the household in all sorts of ways… though not all of them bad, as when she inspires novelist Kelly to stop putting off her dreams of getting back to her work, which has been put on hold by new motherhood. A master of the subtlest of dramatic observation, Swanberg gently teases wistfully recognizable frustration, tolerance, and warmth out of familial love and annoyance in a story that, while short — the film runs only 78 minutes — affords a remarkable amount of breathing space to its characters. Swanberg’s unforced humanity and realism are unlike anything other filmmakers are giving us right now.

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Happy Christmas (2014)
US/Can release: Jul 25 2014 (VOD Jun 26 2014)
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content
BBFC: rated 15 (drug use, strong sex references, strong language)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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