For years we have been dreaming of a Christmas themed lesbian love story, and Clea DuVall (yes from ‘But I’m a cheerleader’) promised to deliver on that with her film ‘Happiest Season‘. The lesbian community were shooketh when it was announced the movie would be starring THE Kristen Stewart and we certainly were counting down the days until it was released. Due to COVID, the cinema was scrapped and replaced with streaming via Hulu instead (USA) and Amazon Prime/ Apple TV (UK).
Happiest Season is directed by Clea DuVall and co-written by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland. The movie stars Kristen Stewart (Abby), with Makenzie Davis as her girlfriend (Harper), Mary Steenbergen & Victor Garber as Harper’s parents, Mary Holland and Alison Brie as Harpers sisters and and Dan Levy as Harper’s gay BFF John. One of the most talked about character to come out of Happiest Season is Riley, Harper’s ex, played by Aubrey Plaza.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
The storyline centers around Harper bringing Abby home to her family for Christmas, and only as they are about to arrive, does Harper confess she is in fact, not out to her family. Having to go back into the closet is a feeling that all too many of us can relate to and the movie provides comedy, mainly in the form of Dan Levy who we would like to be our new BFF please, as well as the harsh relaity of being LGBTQ+ during the holidays. The film has the community DI-VI-DED and we’ll be sharing some of those views below.
“When Happiest Season was announced there was a feeling of rejoicing that finally, to join the ranks of endless Holiday films there was one with a Lesbian couple at the heart. What it appeared to be was a Gay version of all our favourite holiday films- sweet, sentimental and a bit cheesy, and best of all starring two women. What Happiest Season actually does, is far more than the average Holiday film- it delves a little deeper into stories of coming out, messy relationships and families. All things that actually, feel really important this time of year.
It’s a brilliantly put-together film with Clea DuVall making a beautiful film from Mary Holland’s funny, clever script. It looks and feels like the Holiday film everyone knows, loves, and has wanted with people that look like them. Added to that the two leads (Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart) deliver excellent, sincere performances at the heart of the film. The set-up is a simple but effective one too- Abby (Stewart) isn’t a fan of Christmas, but in a moment of festive romance is convinced by Harper (Davis) to go home with her for the Holidays for the first time. On their way to her parents Mackenzie reveals she isn’t out to her parents, and they don’t know about Abby. To make matters worse, Mackenzie’s Dad is running for Mayor of their small (seemingly conservative) town, and her parents are more concerned than ever with projecting an idea of perfect family life to the world. Abby ends up stuck pretending to be someone she isn’t, while watching her girlfriend turn into someone totally unfamiliar over a season she already hated.
DuVall pulls together all the hallmarks of a fun festive film too- there’s big parties, and awkward dinner parties, and many a laugh out loud moment. The supporting cast too offer the kind of back up character and narrative you know and love from a romcom. Mackenzie’s two sisters, uptight Sloane (Alison Brie) and quirky Jane (Mary Holland). Both deliver deft comedic performances in their own right (although a spin-off sequel for Jane would be a hilarious and brilliant film in itself). Mary Steenburg as Mackenzie’s mother is also quietly hilarious, delivering an understated but brilliant performance. Outside the family group Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Mackenzie’s ex-girlfriend Riley- and it’s brilliantly refreshing also to have a gay girl friend character, who like the leads, doesn’t fall into cliches (but does rock a series of brilliant trouser suits). Similarly, Daniel Levy as Abby’s friend John, takes the ‘gay best friend’ part of a romcom to a far more rounded level, offering equal parts humour, and moving sincerity in his performance.
Overall, the film manages its comedy and serious side well. But, if there’s one element of Happiest Season that doesn’t work, it’s that, at times, it doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. This results in a bit of ‘throw everything at it’ approach and a slightly jarring experience. It starts as a super sweet Christmas film that looks like it’s heading to Netflix so-bad-its-good cheese territory. Later it becomes a far more reflective piece, a romcom with a serious side. And then at times it also veers into big slapstick ‘high comedy’ moments. None of these parts make for bad films, but they don’t quite gel together easily. The high-comedy moments are most jarring- they don’t fit with either the sweet Christmas film or the more serious undertones, and ultimately feel like a bit of a distraction when we’d rather get back to the plot. Is this a mark of a film, conscious of being marketed as ‘Lesbian Christmas Romcom’ trying to hit as many markers as possible to please different audiences? Perhaps, and if so, just further proof that what we need is more diverse films, so that we can get to just telling the stories we want to, rather than making a film that tries to hit all bases.
These slight uneven bumps aside, Happiest Season tells a messy story- and that’s actually, the highest compliment. These characters are imperfect, their relationships- romantic, and family, are imperfect- and crucially that goes for gay and straight characters. Not only is Harper and Abby’s relationship complicated and a bit messy, Harper’s sister is also in the midst of a messy relationship situation she’s also hiding from their parents. This feels important to show too, that it’s not because Harper is gay that she’s made some questionable choices around her relationship, it’s that she’s human and relationships with partners, and parents are challenging for everyone. It’s the festive, ultimately feel-good film you want it to be. It’s just got a lot more going on underneath.
And as a ‘gay romcom’ it also addresses some important things- the key ones being Coming Out and the importance of Queer friendships. For the former, what this film does that lots of ‘our’ ‘Coming Out’ films doesn’t, is shows grownups dealing with that. Not everyone’s coming out story ends in High School, and it’s refreshing to see that addressed, and how difficult that can be as an adult. Daniel Levy’s character John gives a moving speech about coming out to Abby, talking about the extremes of good and bad and everything in between the Queer people experience. It’s a speech that will speak to the heart of anyone who has been there- or anyone still waiting to be there. His speech, and his character are also part of the other really significant part of this film- Queer friendships. In John, and in Riley, we see the importance of the bonds between Queer people. Again in John’s character it’s nice to see a rounded ‘gay best friend’ and to be shown a friendship between a gay man and a gay woman. Likewise, the idea that Riley and Abby are in competition is quickly moved past and we see their friendship grow. All of this feels as important as Harper and Abby’s relationship- the idea of seeing all these Queer relationships wrapped up in a Holiday bow is what actually makes it heart-warming.
Happiest Season might divide some people. Some people are looking for a simple holiday season romance, and that’s ok- that’s right even. But also it’s right we tell the messy stories, the complicated stories and the ones about flawed humans too. And because for lots of LGBTQ+ folks, the holidays are a messy complicated time with families, actually the happy ending to this more complicated romcom brings a lot of hope along with holiday cheer.”
“Going into the Holiday season The Happiest Season was one of the films we were looking the most forward to watching. It has such a wonderful cast and let’s be honest, casting Kristen Stewart as the main lead was nothing short of a stroke of genius! In the end there were both things we loved and also disliked about the film. The film centers a lot around coming out around the holidays, and although this is an important topic, it is a topic that many in the LGBTQ+ community have become very tired of having our stories and experiences revolve around. Something we didn’t expect however was to not completely ship the romance between the two main characters as we found that one character was very unlikeable through the entirety of the film. What we did love though was the friendship between the main character and her best friend which truly reminded us of the amazing chosen family in our communities, the fun vibe of the film, and the importance of acceptance and accepting people for who they are, and whatever struggles they may face while in the process of coming out.”
“Happiest Season is a classic holiday rom-com with a lesbian leading couple! About *&*@# Time!! The movie is a delightful twist on the drama that families share over the holidays; drama that always wraps itself up sweetly by the end of the show!
I’ve become a big Stewart fan as she has grown into her authentic self, and she doesn’t disappoint in this holiday romance. Dan Levy (creator and star of Schitt’s Creek) is wonderful as the gay best bud, who comes to the rescue with love and support. Pay attention to what he does for a living and the subtle side story with the youngest sister Jane played by Mary Holland.
I watched this movie twice and it was even better with the second telling: a beautiful reminder to be your true self and that there is always a place for love, understanding and forgiveness during the holiday season!”
“We were looking forward to Happiest Season for a long time. After seeing the trailer we got SO (read: way too) excited; a lesbian Christmas movie, directed by lesbian Clea DuVall, with Kristen Stewart, that must be amazing?! We obviously set ourselves up for disappointment by setting the expectations so high.
Yes, we love that it’s a queer mainstream movie and we loved seeing Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, and Aubrey Plaza. And it’s such a relatable movie to many queer people, but we just hoped for more happy vibes!! Can we get lesbian joy rather than pain? We missed the chemistry between Abby and Harper (yet we loved the connection between Abby and Riley!). And we couldn’t help but feel we had already seen this movie, in the form of Lez Bomb (where it’s not Christmas, but Thanksgiving).
The movie is promoted as a lesbian Christmas rom-com, a feel good movie. We wouldn’t say it’s that. Or well, it is in the sense that it’s ‘cringe’ for most part and ‘happy’ at the end. We hope that with this review, we set the right expectations for you to enjoy the movie for what it is!”
“The Hulu holiday romcom “Happiest Season” is arguably one of the most anticipated and talked about films of the year. Written and directed by veteran celesbian Clea DuVall, the film has an all-star cast and features queer icons such as Kristen Stewart, Aubrey Plaza, and Dan Levy. Though the film has largely been a success among viewers it’s also received criticism from those who feel that it plays too heavily into tropes surrounding marriage, family, and coming out. However, while this movie may initially feel like “Just Another Coming Out Story: Christmas Edition”, the writing is self aware enough to address these issues. This is a coming out story made by and for people who have had to come out. Between the comedic hijinks, “Happiest Season” slows down to appreciate the nuance of the relationships between these characters. Through Harper’s interactions with her ex-boyfriend Connor and Abby’s conversations with Riley, we’re reminded that our coming out story doesn’t always just involve us. Through Abby’s perspective we see Harper’s relationships with her family and start to understand the many different factors that go into a person’s decision to come out or not.
Though upon first glance “Happiest Season” may seem like another coming out story in a red bow, it’s a coming out story that really gets into how complicated coming out can sometimes be. Personally, I think it’s an instant classic and I can’t wait to add it to my yearly holiday watchlist. “
“The title alone gives you this impression that this movie is going to be as cheery as it is gay but instead, it cloaks itself behind unforgivably inconsiderate characters, juvenile situations, & classic perfection-image crazed parents. I found I most identified with Abby (Kristen Stewart) when watching Happiest Season. She is a comfy cozy gay blanket that is just living her dream of going to Columbia, grabbing coffee with her gay best friend John (Dan Levy), & only wants to propose to the love of her life Harper (Mackenzie Davis). That is, until she is given some life-altering news while on the way to a week of Christmas cheer with Harper’s family. With all the good that comes with this movie, there are some red flags that would never be okay in the LGBTQ dating world of 2020. I mean, lying about coming out to your parents and tricking your partner into acting like your straight roommate during the holigays does not a good partner make.
The image-crazed parents used their only successful daughter and biracial children as photo ops to score points politically while demeaning their other two daughters for the majority of the film. Along with the scene where Harper’s sister outs her to a room full of people while she vehemently denies it, many scenes from this film can be emotional and triggering to us gays. It is an enjoyable movie to watch but is better suited for hetero persons, who need to watch coming out stories to gain empathy for their LGBT family and friends. Rather than for the lesbians out there that just want to see a holiday romance movie featuring us being happy with our partners. You can’t help but root for Abby & Riley (Aubrey Plaza), once you find out she was outed by Harper back in high school, to get together towards the end of the flick.
We were left disappointed with a forced happy ending between Abby & Harper, leaving us confused as to why this movie was named ‘Happiest Season’ in the first place.”
“Praise for Happiest Season
Many of us are here for Happiest Season, a charming movie available on Hulu. We needed this flick, especially this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, for many, a heavy and traumatizing global event. The movie provides crucial media representation of love between two women. Further, it offers a glimmer of hope of the power of authenticity, family, friendship, and love. Moreover, it establishes that a romantic love relationship, like other relationships, requires work. Generally, if two people in a relationship want to fight for the relationship, the connection can endure for more than a season.
The movie features two women in a romantic relationship. One of the women, Abby, played by the one and only Kristen Stewart (*swoon*) had endured the trauma of the passing of her beloved parents years prior. Abby’s partner Harper, played by the gorgeous Mackenzie Davis, is close with her family: perhaps too close. Harper also endured trauma, albeit more subtle. Harper’s trauma is the trauma imposed on her by her family to be a certain person for them, rather than be true to herself. The enmeshment within Harper’s family appears to be rooted within familial expectations of perfectionism, rather than within unconditional love. Harper and her sisters are expected to be “perfect” or to fit certain roles in an effort to appease others, such as her father’s political donors or her mother’s social media following.
There are crucial moments during the movie when the characters must decide whether or not to continue to pursue a particular relationship. In the case of Abby and Harper, they decide as a couple that they want to fight for their relationship. Abby overcomes her trauma response to flee and never look back. Harper overcomes her trauma response to people-please, so that she can be true to herself and show up in the relationship with Abby as a whole and authentic lesbian woman.
I admit, there were times during the movie that I hoped that Riley, played by Aubrey Plaza—a hidden ex-girlfriend of Harper’s—would become romantically involved with Abby. Yet, the relationship of Abby and Harper endured even with the temptation that the viewer may have imposed upon the Abby to pursue Riley. Just a note: can we please praise the movie for allowing Riley, Abby, and Harper to be friendly toward each other? Friendship between exes and exes of current flames is achievable and can be oh so mature.
My favorite character was John, played by Dan Levy. While I would not advise that John watch your pet fish, he is an enduring friend and family figure for Abby. His character supports Abby for her Abby’s truth. John is a good friend who does not advise or support Abby in ways that benefit him. He supports Abby in a way that benefits Abby. This is beautiful. Oh, and John, we love your coat.
I know that many of us appreciate this film, especially when, for many, “coming out” continues to be immensely difficult. As John noted, we all have different stories. My only request is, can we have a sequel with Riley as the featured character?”
& on that note, we’ll end with this picture of Aurey Plaza. You’re welcome.
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