Life, as we know it

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FIL REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

HAPPY CHRIST­MAS Di­rected by Joe Swan­berg. Star­ring Anna Ken­drick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Web­ber, Lena Dun­ham, Joe Swan­berg, Jude Swan­berg. Club, Triskel, Cork, 78 min It is in keep­ing with Joe Swan­berg’s oblique ap­proach that Happy Christ­mas, his lat­est lowkey comic drama, was re­leased in the US dur­ing high sum­mer. We wouldn’t want to think he was giv­ing into the bour­geois de­mands of hol­i­day pro­gram­ming.

Any­body blun­der­ing into his pic­ture in search of rein­deer and magic is likely to be dis­ap­pointed. Happy Christ­mas finds the master of (the word is un­avoid­able, alas) mum­blecore once again teas­ing ever so gen­tly at the loose strands in re­la­tion­ships be­tween hip young(ish) peo­ple. One has con­structed a 1950sstyle Tiki bar in his base­ment. Another is strug­gling to start her sec­ond novel. A third is ac­tu­ally played by the ac­tual Lena Dun­ham. This is a world ev­ery bit as for­malised as that in Guardians of the Galaxy.

None of which is meant as crit­i­cism. Happy Christ­mas finds the di­rec­tor in sharp form and his cast bounc­ing off one another with en­er­getic cre­ativ­ity. In a sce­nario that has res­o­nances with this year’s more main­stream The Skele­ton Twins, the film sees a rel­a­tively sta­ble cou­ple (Swan­berg and Lynskey) un­der­go­ing some dis­rup­tion when a more un­in­hib­ited sib­ling comes to stay. Anna Ken­drick is won­der­ful – an­noy­ing, funny, hard to hate – as Jenny, younger sis­ter to Kelly (Lynskey). Within min­utes of ar­riv­ing at her rel­a­tives’ house, Jenny has es­caped wash­ing-up du­ties and headed off to a boozy party with her pal Car­son (Lena Dun­ham). Mild ten­sions con­tinue. She nearly sets fire to the house. She en­cour­ages the high­brow Kelly to write mummy porn. Some sort of un­easy ro­mance kicks off.

So slight are Swan­berg’s films that it proves hard to re­sist fo­cus­ing on what they don’t do. Jenny is not trans­formed or cured of dis­so­lu­tion. She does not re­veal any great hypocrisies in her in-laws’ rel­a­tively con­tent life. No­body makes any huge clos­ing speeches. The film pot­ters ami­ably and af­fect­ingly to­wards an end­ing open-ended enough to be mis­taken for real life. It’s good to have Joe around.

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