Wisconsin Film Festival Spotlight: “Happy Christmas”

HAPPYCHRISTMAS

Tickets for the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival went on sale Saturday, and each day between now and the start of the festival on April 3, I’ll be zooming in on one of the more than 140 films playing at the festival. If you have suggestions about films you’d like to know more about as you’re planning your festival experience, let me know in comments.

Happy Christmas” (6:45 p.m. Friday, April 4 and 2:45 p.m. Saturday, April 5, Sundance Cinemas)

In the time it takes me to write this blog post, Joe Swanberg will have made another movie.

Well, that’s not literally true of course, but sure feels like it. The Chicago-based Swanberg is considered one of the godfathers of the indie film movement called “mumblecore” (but not by its makers), character-based films with a lo-fi, naturalistic, improvisational philosophy. He’s been insanely productive, with 12 films in seven years, although critics say some of those films feel like half-formed rush jobs.

While Swanberg hasn’t slowed down his output in recent years, he’s broadened his approach by inviting well-known actors into his world. 2013’s excellent “Drinking Buddies” had Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson, and seemed to inch towards the mainstream in its tale of friends without benefits while still staying true to Swanberg’s style of filmmaking.

Now comes ‘Happy Christmas,” which also has Kendrick, along with Melanie Lynskey and Lena Dunham (who was just on “SNL” last night). Kendrick plays an emotionally stunted woman who comes to live with her brother (Swanberg) and his wife over the holidays, and sets the fragile balance of the household out of whack.

Indiewire said “Happy Christmas” was more ragged than “Buddies,” and sort of a lateral step in his career, but that “the silver linings of “Happy Christmas” are largely engaging, truthful and affecting.” Paste Magazine also thought it paled a little compared to “Buddies,” but that it had “modest pleasures thanks to its gentle observations and likable manner.”

I’m looking forward to seeing it. And if I don’t like it, maybe Swanberg will have another movie done by the time I leave the theater.

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