'Happy Christmas': The conflicts never come to a full boil

'Happy' stars writer-director Joe Swanberg and Melanie Lynskey as a married couple, Jeff and Kelly, who take in Jeff's troubled sister (Anna Kendrick).

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
'Happy Christmas' stars Anna Kendrick (center), Lena Dunham (l.), and Jude Swanberg (r.).

Writer-director Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” starts out promisingly. A Chicago married couple, Jeff (Swanberg) and Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) welcome into their home Jeff’s out-of-state sister, Jenny (Anna Kendrick), who recently broke up with her boyfriend and, as they soon discover, is something of a mess. Since one of the requirements of her indefinite visit is that she help out with the child care of the couple’s 2-year-old son, Jude (Jude Swanberg), Jenny’s habit of passing out drunk at parties does not bode well.

As a filmmaker, Swanberg keeps everything vaguely comic and deadpan. Jenny’s travails, and the couple’s concerns, never really come to a full boil. None of this seems to matter much to little Jude, who has a high old time being a baby. I suppose it’s because his father in this movie is played by his father, but I’ve never seen a better performance – or whatever you want to call it – from a two-year-old. Grade: B- (Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content.)

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