Holiday season is coming in fast, and with families stuck inside their own little bubble, what better time to watch a new breed of Christmas flick? Yes, ‘Happiest Season‘ borrows some familiar genre tropes, and glams it up with a pinch of glitter and rainbows. LGBTQ+ representation in films of this caliber are almost unheard of, but director Clea DuVall decided it’s time to go mainstream, making the yuletide gay.
Meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time can be tough. Planning to propose at her family’s annual Christmas dinner – until you realize that they don’t even know she’s gay – is even harder. When Abby (Kristen Stewart – ‘Underwater‘) learns that Harper (Mackenzie Davis – ‘Terminator: Dark Fate‘) has kept their relationship a secret from her family, she begins to question the girlfriend she thought she knew.
As soon as we step into Harper’s childhood home, Christmas hits you in the face like a Hallmark extravaganza. The production design is off the charts, but still classy. To convince her parents to bring along Abby, Harper introduces her to everyone as her orphan roommate. Mommy dearest, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen – ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist‘) shows us around the house, giving us a bit of background information on the other children she has raised. Middle sibling, and ally I will personally protect at all costs, Jane (Mary Holland – ‘Homecoming‘) keeps the joy in the house, and is clearly the black sheep of the family. Her reactions to everyone and everything that’s happening around her is the comedic relief needed in this otherwise rather serious dramedy.
That’s right, ‘Happiest Season‘ is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but often quite somber. More so, because the reasoning behind this year’s big Christmas party is to impress the investors who could change father of the house, Ted’s (Victor Garber – ‘Power‘) run for mayor, expecting everyone to bring their A-game. As you can already guess, this doesn’t go without the expected hurdles and escape plans to hide the couples’ true identity. The sad reality about this story is that I (and so many others) have actually felt this way at some point in our life. Not being able to truly express who we identify as. The power in that lies with Stewart, who as the film’s lead truly captivates the sadness that overcomes you when feeling trapped in a closet you no longer want to be in.
The entire ensemble cast is strong. Clear standouts are Mary Holland, Kristen Stewart, Alison Brie (as Harper’s rivaling oldest sister, Sloane), Aubrey Plaza (as Harper’s ex-girlfriend) and Daniel Levy (‘Schitt’s Creek‘), who is criminally underutilized as Abby’s best friend, stealing every scene he’s in. He brings a monologue near the end of the film, that hit me out of nowhere, resulting in me sobbing. To be honest, apart from Brie, the actors I just mentioned are the only ones that play positive characters. The other characters are extremely unlikable, as they are all so mean to each other. Steenburgen in particular seems too nice of a person in real life to play a rather egotistical mother-in-law, and just didn’t come across convincing to me.
In thinking this would be more of comedy, at first I had a hard time getting into the film itself. The story is extremely relatable to myself, as someone who identifies as a cis white gay male, which didn’t necessarily made this an easy watch, but nonetheless a very important one. I’m glad DuVall put a gay couple front and center, portraying the struggles of being your true self when the only thing your family expects is perfection. It’s a story about family and acceptance. There’s so much “pride” in each one of these individuals, that often gets overshadowed by their nasty behaviour. Forgiveness in the end could make the difference in allowing others to be themselves, or them ending up resenting you for the rest of your life.
‘Happiest Season‘ is a classic in the making, as it changes the formula of what a Christmas film is expected to be, significantly. DuVall has made something surprisingly endearing, that’ll trigger a wide range of emotions. It’s A Wonderful Queer Life after all.
Review – ‘Happiest Season’
Reviewed online (screener provided by Hulu), November 14, 2020. Rating: PG-13. Running time: 102 min.
PRODUCTION: A Hulu release of a Hulu Original, TriStar and eOne presentation of a Temple Hill production. Producers: Isaac Klausner (p.g.a.), Marty Bowen. Executive producers: Wyck Godfrey, Jonathan McCoy.
CREW: Director: Clea DuVall. Screenplay: Clea DuVall, Mary Holland. Editor: Melissa Bretherton (ace). Cinematography: John Guleserian. Score: Amie Doherty.
WITH: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Mary Holland, Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Ana Gasteyer, Jake McDorman, Burl Moseley, Sarayu Blue.