Joe Swanberg is such a prolific one-man indie factory — he's directed 16 features in nine years, believe it or not — that it can be difficult to mentally separate each one of his films from the others. So while I can't name career highs with complete authority, I'm comfortable saying that “Happy Christmas” is easily my favorite of Swanberg's films to date: a big-hearted, precisely observed character piece that has the warmth and texture of actual cinema.
I saw “Happy Christmas” at its Sundance premiere, and was thoroughly won over by its loose, low-key charms; with his own Chicago house and unreasonably adorable baby featuring prominently on screen, it's a palpably personal project for the writer-director. While he takes the male lead, however, the film really belongs to actresses Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey, who spark (and spar) beautifully as chalk-and-cheese sisters-in-law — the former an irresponsible coaster, the latter an overly neurotic writer-turned-housewife — belatedly getting to know each other beyond mere family ties.
The exclusive clip above offers a gentle taster of the funny-awkward interplay between Kendrick and Lynskey's characters, as the latter distrustfully talks the former through a simple babysitting assignment. Both actresses are on top form, and watching them listen (or pointedly not listen) to each other is a real pleasure.
“Happy Christmas” will be released on iTunes/OnDemand tomorrow June 26. It will be released in theaters in LA and Chicago on July 25.