One of the greatest things about film is the ability to learn and grow through the experiences of others not like yourself...stories told by people or points of view that you might not have otherwise experienced. In the mainstream, for example, we have rarely seen REAL stories about LGBTQ love and family life, let alone in a Christmas movie. Several minorities and groups - like the LGBTQ community - haven't had fair representation on film, to put things mildly.
With "Happiest Season," we get a bona fide lesbian Christmas comedy, one that is really funny, super-relatable to all and also full of heart. Maybe one future Christmas years from now, "Happiest Season" will be known as one of the better Christmas movies period, and not just that it's an LGBTQ Christmas movie.
In "Happiest Season," Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) are madly in love. Swept up one wintry night, Harper finally relents and asks Abby to come home with her for Christmas, to meet her family. Abby has been somewhat of a Grinch when it comes to the holidays, but the next morning she's all in...and not only that, but Abby plans to pop the question to Harper on Christmas Day. So Abby and Harper head home together.
But there's one catch: Harper hasn't "come out" to her family yet...which goes without saying that the family knows nothing about Abby as well.
Making this more of a quandary, Harper's dad is Ted, a conservative politician (Victor Garber) up for re-election, and having his daughter come out as openly gay wouldn't be good for his campaign. So Abby - now in the know - agrees to play along with Harper's plan that the two are just roommates and not romantically involved. The stage is set for all sorts of hijinks.
A hilarious cast of characters rounds out Harper's family and the others we'll meet along the way. There's Harper's overbearing mom, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) and her misfit sister Jane (Mary Holland). Her other sister is Harper's uptight rival, Sloane (Alison Brie), who also is holstering a few secrets of her own. SNL-alum Ana Gasteyer is a powerful donor that Ted is trying to seduce into funding his campaign, and Dan Levy ("Schitt's Creek") plays John, Abby's gay best friend tasked with watching her various pets while she's away. Aubrey Plaza is Riley, a woman from Harper's past.
"Happiest Season" is written and directed by Clea DuVall, and structurally, it's as conventional as you'd expect from a Christmas movie, or any romantic-comedy. What makes it unconventional and fresh is how it portrays a same-sex relationship and how much investment the audience makes in this dysfunctional family. It also smartly has many of its stars playing against type. Victor Garber - a gay man in real life - as a conservative politician? Aubrey Plaza as a soft and warm human? Allison Brie as the uptight bitch? Many of the actors in this film play against expectation, while others (like Levy, Steenburgen or Holland) give us exactly what we know and love.
Mackenzie Davis holds her own, but also somewhat surprising is how great Kristen Stewart is at comedy. Her dark-and-brooding persona that we've gotten to know over the years suits her character well, but she shows real heart and comedic timing. It's a whole new side of her that we hopefully get more of in the years to come.
Woven into this Christmas rom-com is not just a love story between two women, but the love shared between family members. Themes of acceptance, both for yourself and for your family, is front-and-center. It also seems cut with an edge of cleverness, with a comedic-style that will have you laughing out loud, in-between the smiles.
"Happiest Season" is down-right funny, and like the best of Christmas movies, it leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Of course, Christmas is always a good excuse for a film to bring a group of characters together...but also just like Christmas, it's about the people in the room and not so much the holiday itself that makes this the happiest season of all.
Genre: Comedy, Romance.
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Dan Levy, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Victor Garber, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Holland.
Written and directed by Clea DuVall ("The Intervention").
"Happiest Season" is available on HULU starting Wednesday, November 25th, 2020.
Looking for a specific movie or review?