Filmed in Chicago, showing a few of our favorite neighborhoods, "Happy Christmas" is a little "slice-of-life" film centering on relationships and their many forms. Joe Swanberg, a Chicago resident who used his own house for the main location, wrote, directed and stars as Jeff, a happily married father of a two-year-old boy (his real-life son, Jude) whose life is about to get turned upside down by the arrival of his despondent sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick).
Jeff is a film director and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) is a novelist. Since the birth of their son, Kelly has had less and less time to write. Already resentful, she becomes even more so after Jenny's appearance, and complete lack of maturity. The good news is Jenny recognizes Kelly's frustrations, and the two sisters-in-law bond over a plot line for a new, sexy novel penned by Kelly.
Jenny has her own set of problems, including a recent break-up which prompted her move back to Chicago. She has a major reliance on booze and weed to get through her days. Kendrick is not one of my favorite actors, and her performance in "Happy Christmas" does nothing to alter that opinion.
Swanberg doesn't actually write a script, as in dialogue, rather he composes outlines and lets the actors improvise. As one would expect, sometimes this works and others --- not so much. I could only take so much of Jenny twisting her hair --- and her words --- trying to communicate with her new boyfriend/pot supplier Kevin. After about two minutes of this nonsense, I was praying she would actually speak an entire sentence.
When your two favorite things about a film are: 1.) Seeing the outside of one of the two best Thai restaurants in Chicago, Opart Thai House on Western Avenue (the other one is Jin on North Broadway), 2.) Kevin's ADORABLE dog Mr. Pants --- you know you're not "happy" with the movie in its entirety.
"Happy Christmas" tries very hard to be cool and relevant. But, in the end, it's pretty average and never gets to any real point. Swanberg's son Jude is precious, and you can tell they have a meaningful bond, but, even at 82 minutes, it was not enough and too long for me.
Opinion: Wait for DVD