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'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).

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

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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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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