Happy Christmas stars Anna Kendrick as a twentysomething on the cusp of restarting her life following a wretched breakup she refuses to speak of, moving in with her brother, sister-in-law and 2-year-old nephew in their home on the outskirts of Chicago.

Written, helmed and starring Joe Swanberg, Happy Christmas is the director’s follow-up to Drinking Buddies, another understated movie that uses character development – or lack of character development – to push the story onward. Happy Christmas is an exploration of circumstances and personalities colliding to create new consequences. Will Jenny (Kendrick) mature out of her woman-child stage? Will Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) juggle her motherly and wifely duties to get her writing career on track?

In the past, a character like Jenny would typically be played by a male and the movie would be a slapstick comedy – like a post-fifth year of college Van Wilder retreating to family life and messing it up royally. Now, Jenny is an archetype of a particular type of modern woman, one in her mid 20s who’s more determined to find her happiness – whatever that is – than to have a decent savings; one who still drinks too much and smokes too much, who eventually wants a family but can’t bear the responsibility until her 30s. Jenny’s ennui is only rivaled by her general reluctance to do anything meaningful to combat it.

When Kendrick’s loveable but endlessly aggravating Jenny moves in with Jeff (Swanberg) and Kelly, it’s not 12 hours before she begins to prove herself as a less than ideal housemate. She heads to a party with her longtime friend Carson (Lena Dunham), where she nearly has a hookup in a bathroom, pontificates about life among the pot smokers and winds up passed out in the host’s bed. Her brother ends up having to pick her up, much to his wife’s chagrin. After Jenny’s drunken display, Kelly phones up babysitter Kevin (Mark Webber) to watch Jude, not trusting her sister-in-law to look after her son.

Despite Jenny’s almost allergic reaction to any and all forms of responsibility, she manages to forge a friendship with Kelly – played by a perfectly self-deprecating Lynskey – that pulls the young mother out of her rut of diapers and dishes. She pushes her to rediscover her passion, ask her husband for what she needs and stop deferring her dream of being a working novelist – even if that means starting off with a lurid bit of “mommy porn” in the vein of E.L. James’ bestsellers, but with better writing.

There’s no doubt that Jenny becomes a positive influence for Kelly, providing a shot of the almost reckless optimism for possibility she herself is drunk on. After leaving a pizza in the oven to burn as she succumbs to an inebriated stupor in her brother’s tiki bar basement – filling the house with smoke and then sneaking out of the house the next day to avoid the gathering around the Christmas tree – it’s uncertain if Jenny has swallowed the dose of pragmatic realism she needs to make the next Christmas a happier one.

Swanberg’s loose method of directing, putting the actors in situations and allowing them to come up with the dialogue, works well within the story of Happy Christmas. It results in conversations that seem as awkward as those one experiences on a daily basis, as well as those that flow mindlessly free. When Happy Christmas ends, the story very clearly doesn’t, and it’s without question just a glimpse of a larger and longer reality with more uncomfortable, maddening and endearing scenes waiting to unfold.

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