Packed to the brim with wall-to-wall jokes and witty one-liners, a heartfelt premise and performances bursting with chemistry, the Clea Duvall directed Happiest Season is a welcome addition to the feel-good holiday, rom-com genre.
A 90-minute escape, Happiest Season transports us into a holiday situation that is ripe with family drama, fancy Christmas parties, romance, and a secret. But, not all of these elements gel together, some of which act as a substitute for a more meaningful exploration of the protagonist’s sexuality and her readiness to come out to her family.
Happiest Season is by no means a movie that changes the queer canon or shows a story that many of the LGBTQ community will invest in and remember. In fact, the climactic moments of this movie could possibly do enough to push its queer audience away. However, the LGBTQ community is incredibly diverse, so of course, not all members of this community will agree with this assertion.
Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) anchor Happiest Season and their relationship is filled with an ease that makes it easy to understand why Abby wants to propose. Their chemistry only becomes stronger as the film progresses and more hurdles are thrown their way as they attempt to make their relationship work, despite Harper’s insecurity when it comes to her identity and her family.
The rest of the characters are cast incredibly well—from the uptight and competitive sister, played by Alison Brie, to Mary Steenburgen as Harper’s mother and finally, Dan Levy, Abby’s friend John, who is a show-stealer with his brief monologues and well-timed quips. Levy is a force to be reckoned with, as he doesn’t just ride his popularity from the critical success of Schitt’s Creek but also gives a strong performance in Happiest Season, not just from the comedic end of the spectrum, but the serious, emotional end as well.
Even characters that exist to disrupt the balance between family even further, Riley (Aubrey Plaza) for instance, have strong backstories and are easy to relate to. Plaza plays Riley with nuance and vulnerability that made Harper’s jealousy almost more than just a trope. At the same time, I still found myself wondering if the drama between Harper and Abby was meant to be resolved, but that is a plot twist waiting for a different day.
Happiest Season sets out what it wants to do in telling a story of two women in love in which that love allows one to grow in all aspects of her life. Harper’s love for Abby inspires Harper to assess who she is, why she is that way, and finally, what she needs to do to truly be herself.
There are all the elements to make a successful Christmas film—casting, chemistry, conflict, and most importantly, a spirit of hope, giving Happiest Season plenty to celebrate with its funny, heartfelt, and honest script. It’s a great movie to watch with your relative who needs a little push to understand the normalcy that LGBTQ relationships can instill. Happiest Season is a film that is so close to hitting all of the marks, but it just misses one of the ones that really matter.
There is a lot to be said about a movie that can exist comfortably with its heterosexual counterparts in a genre, and Happiest Season accomplishes this without a doubt. But at the same time, there must be more considerations made for who the film is about—queer women.
The film utilizes several tropes—not all bad, plenty good—but it’s the decision to focus on coming out and depicting potentially traumatic situations within the coming out process where Happiest Season has its misdeeds. After all, who wants to be reminded of their potentially hurtful coming out stories in the midst of watching a holiday comedy?
Again, while many LGBTQ viewers may not have issues with this story, everyone’s story is different—something the film goes to great lengths to highlight. While coming out is a sensitive issue, this story arc could take a long, long break and still allow an endless variety of LGBTQ stories to be told but on a more even playing field with the Christmas stories that are typically focused on the romantic relationships between a man and a woman.
There isn’t an interchangeable event in a straight person’s life that can equate to coming out as an LGBTQ individual. However, while coming out stories can be important to the LGBTQ community, it’s also important to normalize stories about their romantic lives without having to include it every time.
But until next Christmas when hopefully there are more new LGBTQ movies than we can count on one hand (I understand two may be pushing it), Happiest Season and its dedication, patience and affection for its leading ladies bring much-needed inclusion to the holiday film market, along with a star-studded cast and guidance for the future.
Happiest Season releases on November 25 on Hulu.