Does anyone really like the holidays? I mean, really? Don’t get me wrong I love my family and all, and as far as dysfunction goes I think we are at a perfectly tolerable level, but the travel requirements just make me shudder.
You see my grandparents live in a small town in Ohio, a short 11 hour car trip away. But you see Anna will be spending the holidays with her family this year, so instead of driving that absurd distance all by my lonesome, I have decided to bus to Madison and stowaway in my parents Lexus, a Lexus with heated seats I might add. Of course the last time this happened I got stuck driving the last half of the trip in a raging blizzard in what was then my parent’s brand new Lexus. By the way, if you think driving in a zero visibility snow storm is hard try doing it for four hours with my father shouting “Matt you are scaring the shit out of me!” from the back seat the entire time. So you can forgive me if I’m not jumping with excitement at the possibility of going through that particular torture again. If only a friend could have some sort of a personal crisis that would give me ample reason to break off my travel plans.
Luckily for Patrick Donovan (Paul Hungerford), that is exactly what happens. With one late night call, Patrick is able to come to the emotional aid of his childhood friend Alden (John Crye) who is struggling with a pre-Christmas breakup with his girlfriend. Foregoing family to instead wallow in self-pity, Patrick and Alden find a co-conspirator in Kirby (Thomas Roads), another former childhood friend who is struggling with the recent death of his father, when they decide to dig up a time capsule they buried at their High School graduation where they hope to discover there is more to their lives then what they simply remember.
Happy Holidays is not your standard Christmas film, primarily in that it isn’t constantly reminding you it is a Christmas film. Sure the fact Patrick bailed on traveling with his partner Kevin for Christmas is an important plot point, but the focus of Happy Holidays is on Patrick, Alden and Kirby, and their own unique interactions with each other and how ineffective they are at helping one another cope with their own personal miseries.
Unlike your standard holiday feel good film, Happy Holidays brings its fare share of bitterness and resentfulness to the screen, but rather then rely on ridiculous sight gags and prat falls to heal the divides, writer/director James Ferguson instead laces the dialogue with acerbic wit and real pathos. But don’t let the bigotry, death and ever present break ups fool you, this is a darkly comic film that skillfully mines these potentially off-putting subjects with relative grace and surprising wit.
For those of you like me who work in an environment positively saturated with Christmas songs during this festive season, Happy Holidays adds another welcome respite with its score. Composer Zachary Hexum has chosen to use non-traditional music and the occasional unconventional style to deliver the soothing score. Sure he slips in the odd Christmas jingle but it is reserved enough that you won’t be craving for December 26th to arrive post haste.
At its heart I think that is what I enjoyed most about Happy Holidays. It pleases without pandering and it never overstays its welcome. And with its low key approach it is a Christmas film that can be watched and enjoyed any time of the year.
Happy Holidays will screen on Sat Dec 20 at 8pm at Lake Pepin Art & Design Center. The screening will be preceded by a screening of Red Balloon and White Mane at 4pm. All screenings are free.