It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year For A New Take On The Classic Christmas Movie
Happiest Season pitches itself as a light-hearted comedic romp when closeted lesbian Harper brings her long-term girlfriend home to her conservative parents for the holidays. What the film is however is a much more in-depth and heartfelt exploration of love, respect, acceptance, and family and will most certainly jerk a few tears.
Written and directed by Clea DuVall this is a Christmas movie of the modern age and I cannot express how refreshing it is to be able to watch a decent festive film that wasn’t made before 2010. Holiday films often cover the same themes; love, family, kindness, the Christmas spirit and whilst Happiest Season doesn’t stray from these key holiday movie themes the story is a nice shift away from the heteronormative romantic comedy genre that most other festive films tend to lean towards. At the centre of this movie about the Christmas season is a Lesbian love story that doesn’t shy away from tackling the tricky themes of acceptance and coming out.
What I liked the most about the story was how natural it felt. This is a story that exists now in reality, it wasn’t fantastical or exaggerated but played exactly how it might in real life. And sure it’s a comedy so there are jokes and situational gags there to make you chuckle but nothing that was played for laughs like a Home Alone or a Christmas with the Kranks might. There are definitely some great one-liners and the cast does a wonderful job giving some really great performances particularly Kirsten Stewart who has copped a bit of backlash in the past for her acting. It is clear that she feels comfortable in this role being that it mirrors her lived experience as a lesbian and this lets the performance come naturally to her, which is lovely to watch.
Some other stand out performances that really made this film shine were Daniel Levy as Abby’s best friend John, Alison Brie as the deplorable older sister and Aubrey Plaza as one of the most natural characters I’ve seen her play, the ex-girlfriend Riley. There were also some fun cameos from a couple of Queens that I won’t spoil here but was very excited to see on screen. The entire cast does a fabulous job of making the comedic and serious ebbs and flows of the story all fit into place.
One of my only gripes was that I wish we could’ve gotten to know Harper and Abby as a couple a little better before the Christmas shenanigans began. There is a painted postcard credit sequence that opens the film basically detailing the story of Harper and Abby’s relationship up until the point the movie starts, but this felt a little superficial. How much they love each other should come out in the interactions prior to the going home for the holidays discussion. As much of the later story involves a shift in their dynamic as a couple having something else to compare this shift too would have solidified that change for the audience. I needed at least another 15-20mins with this couple just existing in their home space, their comfortable place before we began the journey into the place were they couldn’t exist as a couple. A few kisses and “I love yous” say the obvious but I would’ve appreciated some more nuance. This exploration of their relationship would potentially have changed the majority audience response to when Abby starts spending time with Harper’ ex-girlfriend Riley as they appear to have more chemistry together, which has sparked a debate of whether they should have ended up a couple instead.
The only other thing for me was that the story comes from a very privileged place, as holiday films are want to do. It’s set in a big mansion, everyone is dressed impeccably throughout the whole thing, there’s a scene in a mall where they are browsing in an Oroton bag shop and whilst this doesn’t invalidate the message of the story it did feel as though the opulence may be a barrier for some viewers. It felt a little like a trade off. As if the studio would only make a Christmas film about lesbians if they could be in designer clothing and surrounded by consumerism the entire time.
These things are only very small gripes however and the fact that we are finally getting to see a positive shift from the same old Christmas narratives told over and over again is so exciting to see. Happiest Season will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and above all it will put you in the mood for Christmas morning, which for me is all I need out of a good holiday flick.
Happiest Season is in Australian Cinemas Now and Available to Stream on Hulu