By Christian DiMartino
Clea Duvall’s Happiest Season goes in directions you expect it to go once the groundwork for the plot is laid out. It’s also cliché to a degree and not every bit of humor lands in it. Yet even with all of that, it still manages to be one of the best Christmas movies in recent memory. Not that there was really much competition, but hey, credit is paid where it is due.
We have seen many movies like it before. Person has a secret that they need to hide from the family, and they do it, with hijinks ensuing. Perhaps this particular material might have played a little better in like 2005 whenever the world was a bit more uptight in terms of the LGBTQ community, but also, has anything like this been done? Yes… but in ways, no.
Enough dancing around the plot. The film finds Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a couple who couldn’t be more in love. Abby doesn’t have any family, and Harper is about to part ways with her to go see her family for Christmas. Obviously wanting to spend Christmas with the one she loves, she invites Abby to join her, to which she accepts with great joy. Initially staying to take care of her pets, Abby leaves them in the care of her gay confidante (multiple and recent Emmy winner Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek).
Abby is the happiest she has been, but shortly into the drive, Harper drops a giant bomb: contrary to what she had previously said, Harper is not out of the closet, and due to her father (Victor Garber) being a local conservative politician, she is to pretend to be straight for the duration of their visit. This is a fine set-up for a comedy, but one wonders why Harper would bother to invite her in the first place. It was Harper who pushed for Abby to join, but if she knew this information, why would she drag her into it? Anyways, so yeah, Abby and Harper pretend to be straight while spending time with the family, which of course takes a toll on Abby, who is forced to sleep in a separate bed, ends up neglected, and even ends up accused of shoplifting. You know, that.
It doesn’t seem like I have given the movie much in the way of credit. To be honest, it’s a decent movie. Yes, it is predictable and cliché, but also, it’s a Christmas romantic comedy. What new ideas are there to mine? The real spin here is that it tells a story that’s been told before, but with a lesbian couple. As it stands, even though this material seems better suited for 2005, it’s also hard to deny that if this film would’ve been made in 2005, it wouldn’t have been done with nearly as much sensitivity. Everything would have been played for over-the-top laughs- kind of like what this movie does when it’s at its worst. Happiest Season is actually a pretty well written movie with some solid one-liners, but it every so often comes across as sitcom-y, and it just doesn’t quite work as well as whenever the movie plays its laughs… well, for lack of a better term, straight.
I guess the true driving forces of Happiest Season lie in its dilemmas and in its acting. The central conflict at the center of Happiest Season is an engaging one, and sure with it being 2020 not everyone might see that. But there are still closeted people who refuse to let themselves be happy for the sake of others, and speaking as a former one, let me tell ya, it’s much better on the other side. Yet the conflict between Harper and Abby is also really interesting, particularly with the addition of Harper’s ex, played by Aubrey Plaza, who about runs away with the movie. Plaza, like the rest of the cast, is great. Yet this is Stewart’s movie all the way. She has been on a roll for a few years, but here she really kills.
Happiest Season will not change your life, but it’s a solid, entertaining way to pass the time. If you’re snowed in this holiday season (or, shoot, quarantining), there are definitely worse ways to spend your time. Better, yes, but also worse.