Film Review: ‘Happiest Season’ is the lesbian holiday rom-com that we’ve needed all along
Coming out to your family is never easy. Your heart almost feels like it’s going to jump out of your chest when you say the words. The subject of coming out is one of the themes in Happiest Season, but not the only one. In addition, the creators also raise the topic of a reputation amongst friends, family ties, and secrets – all that during the merry season. The film, directed by Clea DuVall (Veep) and co-written by Mary Holland (Golden Arm), is the first major studio holiday movie revolving around a relationship between two women. This extremely entertaining, witty, and, at the same time, touching picture is one of the best modern holiday films.
Abby (Kristen Stewart, Charlie’s Angels) is deeply in love with Harper (Mackenzie Davis, Terminator: Dark Fate) – they both create a beautiful couple. When the latter invites her to spend holidays with the whole family, Abby has a plan. After many thoughts and consultation with her best friend, John (Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek) – who, let’s add, believes that marriage is just “sticking to patriarchy”, desires to propose to Harper after seeking her father’s (Victor Garber, Rebel in the Rye) blessing. Her plans, however, are quickly diminished when Harper tells her that the family doesn’t know about her relationship and, what’s worse, true sexuality. She asks her girlfriend to pretend to be her “orphaned friend,” and who’s Abby to deny anything to the love of her life?
After arrival, Abby meets the parents, Ted and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen, Book Club), and Harper’s two sisters – Jane (Mary Holland) and Sloane (Alison Brie, The Rental). One of the most important things for the father, who runs for mayor, is reputation and he highlights it quite a lot. Abby quickly realizes that pretending may not be as easy as she thought, especially after the woman meets Harper’s ex-boyfriend (Jake McDorman, What We Do in The Shadows) and ex-girlfriend, Riley (Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear).
Happiest Season is everything that we needed in 2020. Holiday films are something that we all grow up with. They are a tradition in our households, we are expecting them during the merry season, and are delighted when we can start watching them all over again. There is a very special magic to it – they will never get boring. They are an integral part of our lives and, in turn, one of the most important film genres out there. However, since the dawn of time, we’ve only seen one kind of holiday film: A man and a woman, husband, and wife, someone proposes to someone, and they end up happily ever after. There are many scenarios, but there was only one pattern that we’ve seen until now.
DuVall’s goal is explicit – creating a different kind of holiday rom-com, something that the LGBTQ+ community will relate to. The director, who’s also a community member, alongside Holland, does a spectacular job. Happiest Season is a delightful watch – bitter-sweet at times, chaotic, yet witty and simply heartwarming – all of the things that holidays are all about. Although the features from the this genre tend to be quite cheesy, Hulu’s romantic comedy is more than that. While giving us hysterically amusing Levy and extremely mysterious Plaza, DuVall highlights the importance of coming out, forcing us to reflect on people’s stories. In one of the most touching moments in the film, we can take a moment and realize that each person’s story is different, and we need to think about that, first and foremost.
The film proves Stewart’s talent for comedy. Her character, Abby, is at the center of the story, and must hide her true self from Harper’s family. The situation hits familiar notes and is very relatable – once you’re out of the closet, you never, ever want to go back. But Abby does for the sake of her relationship, and it gets messy. With Mackenzie Davis in pair, the duo displays a rocky start and delightful finale. Throughout the film, Harper is mostly lost and confused, trying (the accent on “trying”) to balance the family’s needs and her girlfriend’s feelings. The actions push Abby to spend more time alone or with Riley. Plaza, in the role of Harper’s ex-girlfriend, is charming. She’s witty, sarcastic, and a great support for Stewart’s character. Riley and Abby become best buddies, and they’re one of the many highlights of Happiest Season.
All the seriousness of the main premise is softened, however, by the Caldwell family. Tipper, played by the legendary Mary Steenburgen, keeps Instagramming all the time while Ted listens to his speeches and talks about reputation. Sloane is a big mean sister who thinks the world owes her everything, but it’s Jane who makes the biggest impact on the audience.
Mary Holland gives us the best comedy performance, making us laugh out loud with every single scene she serves. Her character is the youngest and the craziest of the trio. In Tipper’s words: “We have given up on her.” The actress embodies the essence of the youngest sibling. She seems invisible to everyone, yet when the printer needs to be fixed or the router is on the fritz, everybody needs her. Her hobbies or interests seem to be nothing in comparison to Sloane or Harper. Nevertheless, in the end, Jane gets her justice in true Jane’s style.
A true contender for the most laughs is Dan Levy. He and Holland are the biggest highlights of Happiest Seasonregarding humor and a reflection on the film’s main subject. Levy’s John is hilarious in absolutely everything. He’s the biggest fan of tracking people and Harper’s mom. He may not be able to take care of all of your animals but will be there when you need him the most. Every single line the actor serves will make the audience laugh. But the most important part of his character occurs at the end in a highly emotional monologue that will make you reflect on the subject and maybe bring a new perspective on its issue.
Happiest Season is very merry and gay. It’s a perfect lesbian holiday rom-com that will be talked about and re-watched many times. The family dysfunction during the Christmas season isn’t exactly new, but thanks to its LGBTQ+ characters at the center of the story, the film feels extremely wholesome. DuVall and Holland deliver a refreshed narrative for the threadbare scenario, making Happiest Season a highly unique, very dear-to-your-heart tale about the significance of coming out, the toxicity of the idea of reputation, and messy holidays that we all had at one point or another. It’s, most importantly, a story about love. You don’t want to miss this one.
Happiest Season will premiere on Hulu on November 25.