The one thing I like about watching an indie film, is for that whiff of refreshing ideas and story that one yearns after a series of what can be considered rather bland mainstream offerings. I suppose with a relatively modest budget, one gets forced to become innovative in crafting a tale, especially one for an increasingly sophisticated audience, and for all the Christmas-y movies running up to the new year, Happy Holidays was nothing but an absolute delight to sit through.
Written and directed by James Ferguson, Happy Holidays tells of three friends who get together through circumstances around the holiday period where all should be fine and dandy with merry making. However each brings along his own baggage of problems – some become very vocal about their issues, while others pent it all up inside, and we examine and follow how they re-connect with each other after a long absence, and how at the end of it all, their lives would be dramatically altered.
Central to the story is Patrick (Paul Hungerford), who feels that his current relationship with his gay partner is somewhat strained, given his reservations and feeling all worked up for the littlest of details that he deemed to be significant, but not having the will to see those stuff through. And not to mention parental objection as well, as he reveals to Alden (John Crye) who gatecrashes Patrick’s plans to spend the holiday season with his lover. Alden brings with him the problems stemming from a break up, as well as the issues with a conversion of religion, while mutual friend Kirby (Thomas Rhoads) whom they chance upon in a diner one day, has to get over the recent death of his father, and surprise to them all, yet still having the composure to being quite the Casanova, cheating behind his wife’s back.
But don’t be expecting any big bang, in your face tale where feel-good, moral messages get shoveled forcefully down your throat just because it’s a season to be jolly. Ferguson crafts a very sensitive tale through a very deft hand of crafty wit in its screenplay, and excellent dialogue amongst characters that feel genuine and as real as you can get with your own get-together with friends. It’s a comedy about friendship, family and faith, with some really touching themes about coming to terms, acceptance and reconciliation.
I guess with friends whom we haven’t met for a long time, it’s always fairly easy to pick up from where we left off, as if it was just yesterday. The bonding returns, the reminiscent of the good old days and for the trio, it also involves the search for a time capsule they buried when they were back in school. But the film very smartly weaves in some real world concerns, and I’m sure most of us would have experienced at some point, where during the festive season of good tidings and goodwill, that the latter gets exploited and taken advantaged of, and even amongst the best of friends, the fine line between being accommodating and on the receiving end of someone’s subconsciously obnoxious behaviour, can be crossed.
What I particularly enjoyed about the film, is that it succeeded in its reliance of razor sharp dialogue to become a talkie film that doesn’t annoy. You know how crafted dialogue may sound rather artificial, but in Happy Holidays, the dialogue comes across as music to the ears, aided by the excellent delivery by its cast. It has some of the best conversational set pieces occurring in the diner involving a hard of hearing elderly woman, a departmental store, and a bar which involves Kirby’s plans for a hot night out going awry.
Happy Holidays turned out to be a quality production with a very good story to tell, surpassing my expectations that it would be a simple, ordinary festive season movie. It has all the necessary ingredients to be feel-good, yet layered with enough pathos and moving moments to touch your heart, particularly in its final act, where it rang home the notion that we sometimes second-guess ourselves a lot more than necessary, rather than to seek out honest and open communications, which is a key to forging basic and deeper understanding. It’s currently having a limited run in the USA, so if you know of it playing at a cinema near you, do check it out!