Happy Christmas, 2014. dir. Joe Swanberg
Swanberg’s harshest critics often paint him as an artist perennially stuck in old habits, but Happy Chrismas is the first film of his in a while that actually feels like a return to mid-aughts “mumblecore”—and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s super comforting to be back in that slack, naturalist mode, simply observing people as they undergo subtle shifts in perspective, shifts that would barely register on anyone else’s Richter scale.
Since the early flagbearers of that accidental genre grew more and more coherent and ambitious as time went on, quieter, sketchier mumblecore films like Funny Ha Ha & Hannah Takes the Stairs have been few and far between. The action in Happy Christmas takes up as much space as a scribble in a notebook, but it’s a proudly human scribble.
It’s also worth noting just how gorgeous the photography is. Swanberg shot in 16mm this time around in tribute to a dying medium and every frame is a beautiful reminder of celluloid’s honey-eyed handling of light. Casting Anna Kendrick as a hot mess was a big misstep though. What is this, sci-fi?