Happiest Season (2020)

Happiest Season
Director: Clea DuVall
Writer: Clea DuVall, Mary Holland
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Mary Holland, Dan Levy, Burl Moseley, Aubrey Plaza
Seen on: 5.8.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) have been dating for a while and are still very much in love. In an unguarded moment, Harper invites Abby back home to her family for Christmas. Abby, who doesn’t have a family anymore, happily accepts. When they’re on the road already, Harper comes clean: she hasn’t acutally come out to her parents yet and she would like Abby to pretend that they are just roommates. Abby reluctantly agrees, but this secret and the emotional toll it takes aren’t easy to stomach.

Happiest Season is a typical holiday movie except for the fact that it’s about a sapphic couple. It is exceptional in the way it just refuses to be anything more than that: family chaos, a bit of drama and a happy end. While I do like it when films have something to say, I do think that there is a lack of queer films that aren’t “issue films”, so this was a really good thing in this case.

The film poster with the main characters arranged as if in a family portrait that hangs crookedly over a fire place with Christmas decorations.

Happiest Season does have themes, and it ponders the question of how you can be yourself in the face of a world, a family that expects you to behave in a certain, apparently pre-ordained way. Harper, and her sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland), all have very fixed roles to play in their family. Deviations are not tolerated – like Sloane giving up her career as a lawyer. Or like Jane succeeding at something. With her sisters as cautionary tales, it’s no surprise that Harper has difficulties to share her own walk off the beaten path of heteronormativity.

Even though it is understandable that Harper wasn’t ready to come out so far, the film doesn’t shy away from showing the anguish this causes Abby. When Harper fills in the role her parents expect of her more and more, she loses sight not only of herself, but also of Abby. That Abby isn’t willing to take this endlessly is equally understandable.

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) on a Christmas stroll.

So, the central conflict is nicely worked out and touches on something that is very particular to queer people in a heteronormative society: we are seen as deviations. We actually need to come out and say that we are not as expected. And there is always the risk that this doesn’t go over well (especially in a family like Harper’s that is all about appearances). But really, it’s not examined too deeply, as the film rather stays in the comedic shallows, preferring to have quirky side characters all over the plot, with a particular stand-out in Jane. Give me a Jane spin-off!

And I really don’t mean “comedic shallows” in a negative way. There are so many holiday movies with not at all queer couples and they are amazingly wonderful comfort food that don’t aspire to be more than a bit of cozy holiday atmosphere. And it is about damn time that we got this with well-known faces as a queer couple, too (and from a queer filmmaker to boot). I am absolutely happy with the result.

John (Dan Levy) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) looking disbelieving at something.

Content Note: cute, sweet fun.

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