You can blame Christmas for everything that seems not to work in the first quarter of White Reindeer, Zach Clark's moving, surprising indie comedy of loss, grief, and yuletide hell-raising. Like the holiday season itself, the movie comes on strong before you're ready for it, hitting us with Hawaiian carols and beaming couples in snowflake sweaters. But then things get interesting, coursing along on a current of urgent sadness. Virginia realtor Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is living one of those lives movie characters start with or end with but can't hold to during the story itself: Her job is fulfilling, and her weatherman husband is a "local treasure." Then she finds that husband dead, murdered in a home invasion. What follows is nothing like the getting-your-life-back-together films we've all suffered through. Suzanne slogs through the three weeks before Christmas in a shell-shocked stupor: She hits it off with a stripper her husband had been having an affair with, loses herself in one of those rare movie drug freak-outs that manages to stir a sense memory of actual drug use, and even insists upon an invite to the neighbors' orgy. A scene of the sex-party participants laughing together afterward, nude and playing video games, is every bit as affecting as the more conventional communion of the climax: Suzanne, at a church service, singing along to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." In the end, Clark and Hollyman know not to suggest that Suzanne has healed. But they both feel enough to risk sentimentality, going all-in on the power of Christmas itself in a shaggy indie that can't resist broadsides against the culture of unthinking consumption that has festered about the holiday.
Zach ClarkAnna Margaret Hollyman, Laura Lemar-Goldsborough, Lydia Hyslop, Joe Swanberg, Chris Doubek, Marissa Molnar, Fernanda TapiaZach ClarkIFC Films