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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Swanberg’

Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt

Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt

“DIGGING FOR FIRE” My rating: B (Opening Aug. 28 at the Screenland Armour)

85 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

If indie auteur Joe Swanberg isn’t careful, he’s going to start making movies that people actually see.

Up to now Swanberg’s heavily-improvised, generational-specific films have earned him cred on the cinematic fringes (and the irritating label “mublecore”).  But last year he made a modest though hugely likable splash with the family dramady “Happy Christmas” — a sign that he may be approaching his cinematic maturity.

With “Digging for Fire” he delivers his most mainstream-friendly effort to date…which is not to say that it’s conventional, only that he’s finding ways to finesse his austere signature style.

Married couple Tim and Lee (Swanberg regular Jake Johnson, who also co-wrote, and Rosemarie DeWitt) are a struggling L.A. couple with an adorable 3-year-old son (Swanberg’s son Jude, a born actor if there ever was one).  He’s a public school teacher.  She’s a yoga instructor.

A wealthy movie industry friend on a foreign shoot has invited them to spend a couple of months living in her ultra cool house on a heavily wooded slope high in the Hollywood hills. We’re talking swimming pool, hammock, plenty of room for the kid’s tricycle.

On their first day in the new digs Tim makes a discovery while walking around the property.  From an overgrown hillside he recovers what looks like a human rib and a heavily-rusted cheap revolver.

The cops aren’t interested in his find — they’ll only show up for an entire corpse. But Tim is intrigued.

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Lena Dunham, Anna Kendrick and Jude Swanberg

Lena Dunham, Anna Kendrick and Jude Swanberg

“HAPPY CHRISTMAS”  My rating: B (Now at the Screenland Armour)

minutes | MPAA rating: R

 

Either indie auteur Joe Swanberg is hitting his groove or I’ve finally warmed to his low-keyed style .

Whatever the case, “Happy Christmas” is a genuinely good family comedy/drama that unfolds without either sitcomish excess or melodramatic improbabilities.

“Happy Christmas” is the 18th feature  Swanberg has directed in the last nine years, which may be some sort of American record. I’ve found much of his work underwhelming.

In the last couple of years he gave us “24 Exposures,” an erotic thriller about a sleep-around photographer that made my skin crawl, and “Drinking Buddies,” a modest dramady about two brewery workers (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johannson) who can’t quite admit they mean more to one another than just a few friendly after-work beers. “Drinking Buddies” now feels like a dry run for “Happy Christmas.”

The set up is ridiculously simple. Young marrieds Kelly and Kevin (Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber) are preparing to take in his younger sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick), who is no the rebound from unspecified bad luck which most likely involves failures in both the man and career departments.

Jenny isn’t a bad person, but she has self-destructive tendencies. On her first night in town she goes to a party with her childhood friend Carson (Lena Dunham) and gets so blotto that Kevin must drive over in the middle of the night to retrieve her.

Well, anyone can have a bad night, right?  Except that Jenny makes a habit of it. She drinks, smokes pot and lolls around with a guy she’s met (played by writer/director Swanberg). It’s not like she’s mean or cruel — just thoughtless in a way that suggests either narcissism or, more likely, really low self esteem.

Trouble is, Kelly and Kevin have been counting on Jenny to care for their year-old son Jude (Jude Swanberg, the director’s child) and it becomes increasingly obvious that she cannot be trusted  with something so precious.

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