Happy Christmas (2014)

This is a Christmas dramedy starring Anna Kendrick. It's a small movie, focused on a handful of characters and their relationships. The dialogue was improvised, which results in very believable interactions.

There's less a story than a premise behind the picture. A woman in her twenties who's just broken up with a boyfriend goes to stay with her older brother, his wife, and their infant for the holidays. Obviously, the younger sister's irresponsible nature creates conflict, but they sidestep sitcom shenanigans. Instead, we're shown the fundamental disconnect between someone still fixated on what happened and grown-ups more concerned with what could have happened.

There are a handful of other factors. The wife's desire to write more, the brother's attempt to juggle the various aspects of his life, and the sister's issues coming to terms with her new life. None of it really slides together in much of a story, but that's kind of the point. The character's lives aren't warped to fit a narrative structure.

In less capable hands, this kind of thing can grow tiresome fast, as you'd be left wondering what the point was. But here, the point is crystal clear: we're experiencing points of view and exploring where they intersect and clash. I can't say for sure whether the movie's success was primarily due to the actor's intuitions or painstaking editing work, but that's fundamentally academic. Either way, the movie was a success.

The Christmas elements are intentionally subtle. The holiday is almost there to be ignored. There's shopping to be done, decorations to be hung, and gifts to be wrapped and unwrapped, but these feel more like incidentals in the character's lives. However, whether or not the characters want to be present for Christmas doesn't matter: Christmas seems intent on being relevant.

To that end, Kendrick's character sets off the smoke alarm on Christmas Eve. The movie's resolution is played out on Christmas day. Of course, there's a reconciliation, but it's far more understated than the usual dramatic holiday scenes we're used to. Still, it's a family putting aside their difference on Christmas.

Sweet, funny, and sometimes sad, this is certainly a movie worth your time. It's currently streaming on Netflix, so give it a chance if you're in the mood for something a bit outside the norm.