Prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues to explore his own backyard in “Happy Christmas,” or more to the point, his own home, a cost-effective location for his first feature released since “Drinking Buddies.” One of those buddies, Anna Kendrick, moves into the newest comedy-drama and continues to drink. And drink. Swanberg plays Jeff, a film director whose wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), is writing a novel, and whose younger sister, Jenny (Kendrick), shows up on their doorstep after a messy and massively deserved breakup. Lena Dunham plays a friend of Jenny’s, and Mark Webber plays a curiously attractive drug dealer whom Kelly plants lips upon. Working in his customary improv style, with cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) repeating the originated-on-film style of “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg scores sly points beneath the surface emotional ruckus and the elevated conversational wordplay. Lynskey and Kendrick have a couple of scenes together, talking about sex and fantasy and imagination that are wholly unexpected in their candor, and the sparky, so-small Kendrick blooms further when called upon a couple of times to speak some really lovely, lilting filth. It’s both funny and jaw-droppingly rich. Oh joy. Plus: two-year-old Jude Swanberg steals every scene he’s in. With Kris Swanberg. 79m. (Ray Pride)
“Happy Christmas” opens July 25 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.