Holiday movies have saturated the Hallmark channel for years, always promising wholesome heterosexual content for the happiest time of the year. Although these provide comfort to many and ring in the holiday cheer, they also tend to leave gay people out of the story. Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season changes that, and it does so with charm and honesty, offering a joyful yet moving portrayal of two women who come out for the holidays.
Abby, played by a bleach blonde-haired Kristen Stewart, is completely in love with her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis). The two seem like the perfect couple, and when Harper invites Abby to spend Christmas with her family, Abby makes a plan to propose to her on Christmas day. The only problem is, Harper is not out to her family, which she doesn’t tell Abby until they are driving there. After agreeing to tell her parents after the holidays, Harper convinces Abby to stay under the guise of her (completely straight) “orphan roommate.” This creates a situation prepped for hilarious misunderstandings, as well as a frustrating side plot, but it results in a well-rounded and honest portrayal of one’s coming out story.
The majority of the movie is a complete blast to watch. The cast is stacked with funny characters including John (Dan Levy), the gay best friend of Abby and Harper, who sucks at taking care of pets but is great at giving advice. Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie are always a delight to see, even if they are slightly underused, but maybe that’s just because they’re so fun to watch. Stewart slips so well into comedy that you have to wonder why she isn’t in more, but one can only hope she continues to make more in the future.
One not so-fun part of the film is a small but frustrating choice within the closeted storyline, that the filmmakers might have done well to remove altogether. Harper, struggling to keep herself and Abby hidden while also not jeopardizing her relationship, makes for some extremely funny moments, and also some heart-wrenching ones. At one point, Abby thinks that Harper doesn’t love her as much as she thought, as she spends so much time with her ex-boyfriend from high school and acts so differently in this new setting. Other plot points convey the rift that this secret is causing between them, so this side plot of Abby and her ex seems almost unnecessary. This is especially due to the harmful stereotypes put on lesbian women about not being “100%” attracted to women and the erasure of bisexuality in media.
However, the coming out story as a whole is treated with nuance, and doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that every non-heterosexual person has to go through. The director, Clea DuVall, is a lesbian woman and clearly puts a lot of care into the telling of this story. Everyone’s coming out is different, and once it’s done, nothing is ever going to be the same again. Happiest Season explores these ideas with honesty and humor, dealing with the less fun parts of it as well as finding the comedy in such a difficult topic.
Having a lesbian woman as the director and co-screenwriter certainly comes through on-screen. Apart from the honest portrayal, there are many little moments and details thrown in that are personal to a lot of LGBT people and their experiences. Some moments are painful ones, pointing out how difficult it is to hide who you are from your loved ones, especially when they make comments that they don’t know harm you. Other moments are funny, like when Abby shows up to a fancy Christmas party as the only woman in pants and a blazer, until she runs into another lesbian, also wearing a nice blazer, which she then compliments Abby on. It may seem minor, but the cheeky nods are comforting to watch as an LGBT audience member, add to the overall delight of the film.
From its hiding in the closet jokes to its emotional monologues about the difficulties of coming out, Happiest Season is a true gift to the holiday rom-com genre and the holiday season as a whole. Stewart and Davis’s chemistry is the heart of the film. You cheer for them, laugh at them, and love with them as they undergo a difficult journey as a couple. Adding in the rest of the phenomenally fun cast, the film is enjoyable to anyone who loves a good Christmas story, but it will be especially unique to people who connect with its main couple. Coming out is rarely an enjoyable moment in one’s life, but hopefully Happiest Season brings some levity to the situation, allowing people from the community a piece of joy during the holiday season.