Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg’s unscripted films, like Drinking Buddies, are pleasant enough, but they make a strong case for the art of screenwriting. With likable actors improvising their dialogue, based on Swanberg’s story outline, Happy Christmas has engaging moments but left me vaguely dissatisfied. And good as the actors are (Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber, and Swanberg himself) the picture is stolen right out from under them by the director’s adorable 2-year-old son Jude. The camera loves him.
Swanberg and Lynskey play the happily married parents of that toddler. Just in time for the holidays, Swanberg’s sister (Kendrick) moves in; she’s gone through a bad patch and this will be her safe harbor. What’s more, she’ll be able to help out by taking care of the kid. At least, that’s the plan, until she and her pal (Dunham) go partying one night and get thoroughly wasted.

Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Ultimately, the film attempts to deal with female roles in our society, and how women find themselves pigeonholed, at home and in the workplace. One key dialogue scene with Kendrick, Lynskey, and Dunham is especially thought-provoking, but it seems more purposeful than organic.

Amiable but borderline-boring at times, Happy Christmas is an exemplar of DIY moviemaking. Swanberg has talent, and some good ideas, but they beg to be fleshed out with a solid script

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024