2020 has been rough, and we need all the holiday cheer we can get to help get us through the end of this difficult year with our sanity intact. It’s now almost December, which means we are about to come face to face with a slew of new Christmas romances and comedies, in addition to the annual slate of classics. This year is different also because we are getting many more new rom-coms with LGBT leads, including Hallmark’s Christmas House, Lifetimes’s The Christmas Setup, Paramount’s Dashing in December, and of course, Hulu’s Happiest Season.
Led by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, and directed by Clea Duvall of But I’m a Cheerleader cult star status, Happiest Season follows the main couple’s relationship taking the next step as Harper (Davis) brings home Abby (Stewart) to meet her parents for the holidays. Abby is planning to propose, but is stopped short when she finds out that Harper never actually came out to her family and that she would have to pose as Harper’s platonic orphan roommate for the duration of their trip.
The star-studded supporting cast includes Dan Levy, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Victor Garber, and Mary Holland. Levy is his classic charming self as Abby’s best friend and confidant who she calls on to get her out of this sticky situation. Plaza is also a surprise standout in the film as one of Harper’s exes from high school with whom Abby forms an unexpected bond. Brie and Holland fill out the cast as Harper’s eccentric sisters Sloane and Jane, the latter of which you can’t help but fall for.
With a sticky sweet plot, fun holiday soundtrack, and a few genuinely funny moments, I can’t complain too much. But as one of my most anticipated films of the year, it didn’t quite meet my high expectations. One of the main reasons is the lack of a fleshed out relationship between Abby and Harper. In an hour and a half running time, it is difficult to establish an existing relationship’s dynamic. The film attempts to do it through an art montage in the opening credits, but we need a bit more to fully understand why Abby and Harper are so perfect for one another before the drama starts and makes you wonder why Abby puts up with Harper’s closeted antics in the first place. When Aubrey Plaza’s Riley appears, the chemistry between her and Abby makes you start to root for the two of them to get together rather than root for the main pairing.
Harper starts to redeem herself, and Davis does a good job of bringing emotional weight to the forefront of those scenes, but the feelings of uncertainty about their relationship are still strong. Her internal struggle between familial acceptance and her romantic life is a very relatable concept for many closeted young people whose circumstances make it impossible to have both. Levy’s John gives Abby a talk about thinking more about this from Harper’s point of view in one of the most poignant scenes of the film. He talks about how coming out is a totally different experience for everyone, and once you do it, there’s no going back. Things will be different, so sometimes it is necessary to be strategic about it.
With some of these more serious moments, a balance is needed between comedy and drama to make the film work, and I think it landed a little short on the comedy side. Levy and Holland do bring in quite a few good one-liners, but they can’t carry the weight of it all.
If you’re looking for something light, easy, and fun to watch this December, Happiest Season is as good a choice as any. However, it won’t leave too much of a lasting impression because of comedy and chemistry that falls flat.
The main reason I find this film to be important is because it signifies an increase in mainstream films that feature a leading lesbian couple and don’t involve any traumatic, heavy, depressing plot lines. There’s been a trend in queer films, especially when made by straight, cis filmmakers, to focus on the gut-wrenching punishments that queer people face in society. We need more happy endings and light hearted stories like these to show the joy that comes with accepting yourself and being who you are, even if the world doesn’t quite accept you. And there’s no better time for that celebration than Christmas, which has been a longtime struggle for anyone still in the closet, or out, having to face the difficult burden of family members who might not approve of them.
Movies can help lighten the load, and I hope that Happiest Season, though imperfect, can show Hollywood that we need more queer joy, more queer love, and overall just more of it all so that someday we don’t have to put all our faith in one singular lesbian Christmas movie to answer all our prayers and instead can have many films to choose from.