Wednesday 9 December 2015

Review: Happy Christmas (2014)

Despite my ridiculously long list of Christmas movies that I simply must watch every year, I’m always on the hunt for new ones I may have missed. So you can imagine my surprise whilst flicking through Netflix that I find a very recent movie starring Anna Kendrick that I’ve never seen! Erm, how is this possible, and would anyone like to buy the rock I’ve been living under?

Happy Christmas (2014) isn’t your typical festive family movie. Jenny (Anna Kendrick) has recently split up with her boyfriend, and moves in with her older brother Kevin (Joe Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and their young baby. Jenny makes a bad first impression straight away when she goes out and gets horrendously drunk, when she had promised Kelly she would babysit the following morning.

Around 20 minutes in, I had a feeling of deja vu, and a quick IMDB search showed me that this is directed by Joe Swanberg, who also directed Drinking Buddies (2013). If you haven’t seen either of these movies, Joe Swanberg basically gets his cast together, tells them a vague outline of the plot and leaves them to improvise the rest, there is no script. 


General consensus says that Drinking Buddies is the superior movie, but I actually preferred Happy Christmas. Perhaps it’s because this time I knew what to expect, I’ll have to re-watch Drinking Buddies to be sure. Swanberg’s movies are definitely like nothing else I’ve ever seen. There’s an almost awkward vibe going on, but at the same time, the conversations these characters have are so much more real, because well, they are real! 

I think I slightly preferred Drinking Buddies but I half wished Anna Kendrick was in that because I just love her, she is just too awesome!  Personally, I think both are ok but could just do with a little bit more story, if I didn't know it was improvised I would have been bored stupid, I tend to keep watching because I'm trying to work out what story they have been told to follow and what is completely pulled out of their heads.  I wish I could see a copy of the story they were given! I think that's why I didn't enjoy Drinking Buddies, I had no idea until afterwards that it was all improvised, so I was so confused!

This is the part where I normally gush about how much I love Anna Kendrick is and how she stole the show here, and don’t get me wrong, she was amazing in this, but it was honestly the baby who stole every scene he was in. He was just so darn funny! I couldn’t even pick a single example for you, but he’s the most happiest and lively little boy I’ve ever seen in a movie.  Fully agree,  he was so cute! I wonder if he is related to any of the cast (particularly Joe Swanberg) because he was just so comfortable with them. If he isn't, he's going to be a star one day!


Happy Christmas has some great characters who you really sympathise with, and when everything heats up during the night before Christmas itself, it’s hard to pick sides. I just wish the movie didn’t end so abruptly! I’d have loved just another 20 minutes or so to tie things up a little.

For me it felt like none of the conversations that happened in the film were tied up, I feel like there was more questions posed than answered (or the Lost effect as I have chosen to call it!) Did Jenny stay with Jeff (Mark Webber)? Did the family reconnect? What movie was she watching in the cinema? Why did they call the film Happy Christmas when other than the tree it wasn't remotely Christmassy?!

I guess my only other grumble is that this was in no way the full-of-festivity movie I was expecting, especially from a movie called Happy Christmas, but then I went into this blind so that’s my own fault for having preconceptions!


  1. Hello Jenna and Allie, found you through Andrew Duvall's blog. I put together a list on my own blog of 101 Christmas movies you must see before you die, must admit this was one of the few festive films I couldn't bring myself to watch! But you've made it sound more appealing than I assumed it would be, so I'll give it a go now, who knows maybe it'll make the list next year. I've added you to my blog list too, I like your writing style with the two different perspectives.

    1. Aw, thanks Donald! I don't think it works as a Christmas Movie, it's kind of a misleading title, but it's certainly worth a watch, and when you know what to expect it's more enjoyable. I really loved reading your 101 Christmas Movies list!
      - Allie

    2. I watched it last night, it was ok but as you say not hugely Christmassy. It's only when you watch an improv movie that you realise now un-normal people in movies usually speak, this was more like watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Agree there were a few plot threads left unfinished, the unstructured improv thing might be to blame for that.

    3. It's like a completely different experience, isn't it? I guess it sort of shows just how talented these actors are when given a script. I didn't realise Drinking Buddies was an improv movie, and I really didn't enjoy it at all, but I think it's better when you know.
      - Allie