A lot or a little?
Parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Happy Christmas is an indie holiday dramedy with mature themes and family dysfunction that aren't likely appeal to young teens -- so while fans of Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick may be curious about the film, but it's clearly aimed at adults. There's drunkenness (as in passed-out drunk more than once) and marijuana use (one character is a part-time pot dealer), very frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," etc.), and a few sex scenes (although none shows nudity). The protagonist isn't an ideal role model, but at least her relationship with her older brother demonstrates the importance of having strong relationships with your siblings and family.
What's the story?
HAPPY CHRISTMAS is a dramedy set in Chicago. Jeff (writer-director Joe Swanberg) is an independent film director living happily with his author wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), and their baby boy, Jude (Jude Swanberg, Joe's actual son). But their early lives are turned upside down when, just before Christmas, Jeff's little sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick), turns up for an extended stay after a difficult break-up. Jeff and Kelly think the 27-year-old Jenny will be up for babysitting and helping around the house until she gets a job and settles into the city, but it quickly becomes clear that Jenny is a mess who wants to spend her time partying, hooking up, and acting irresponsibly.
Is it any good?
The subtlety of Swanberg's films is always notable, but Happy Christmas is slightly too uneven to be his best work. Swanberg is famous in indie circles for his semi-improvisational, ultra-realistic mumblecore indie dramas, with his last film before this one, Drinking Buddies, being his most commercially successful. His style can lead to uneven results. While some actors are up to the task of taking the concept of their roles and running with them, others seem stifled rather than empowered by the unscripted portrayals. Kendrick, who was good in Drinking Buddies, seems unable to fully capture what Jenny is about, whereas Swanberg and Lena Dunham, who plays Jenny's old friend, Carson, know exactly how to add layers of humor and depth while still keeping it real.
Probably the biggest scene-stealer of all is Swanberg's baby, Jude, already a veteran "actor" who has appeared in both of his parents' projects (mom is Kris Swanberg, who makes a brief appearance here as the landlord of a messy house share that Jenny visits). Baby Jude's attempts to talk and kiss and cuddle his dad and other characters are ridiculously genuine and sweet, and they make Joe and Kelly, the new parents trying to figure out how to balance their parental obligations with their professional aspirations, much more compelling than Jenny, who's a lot less self aware than the striving Girls characters Dunham created.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the improvisational nature of the Happy Christmas screenplay was obvious. Do you prefer improvisation in comedies or dramas? Why?
Parents can discuss how the movie presents drinking and drug use. Do you think Jenny parties too much? Does her behavior seem believable? What are the consequences for her hard partying? Are they realistic?
What's the movie's message? Who do you think it's aimed at?
- In theaters: July 25, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: November 11, 2014
- Cast: Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, Melanie Lynskey
- Director: Joe Swanberg
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, Holidays
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, drug use and some sexual content
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.