Happiest Season might sound like another twee holiday hit that strangles you with tinsel before tying you up under the tree, and in some ways it is; but it also quite literally upends said tree and rewrites the Christmas movie entirely. Clea Duvall‘s latest offering is a bold and brilliant LGBTQI+ romcom that subverts an overwhelmingly heteronormative genre by challenging worldviews one family at a time.
When Harper (Mackenzie Davis), intoxicated by the festive spirit, invites her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) to stay for Christmas, the future looks merry and bright. However, when the latter finds out en route that the former is still in the closet, grand plans dissolve into a fraught family affair. As Harper’s father (Victor Garber) runs for mayor, Abby is forced to tiptoe around this conservative household, skirting her partner’s passive-aggressive mother (Mary Steenburgen) and insufferable sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland). Old flings come to light, and as the couple’s secret festers, the “happiest season” snowballs from strained smiles into a full-on brawl.
Stewart is our shining guide through this flick, her wry humour and convincing heart keeping us invested even as we witness the cringeworthy horrors that unfold – including pancakes shaped as snowmen with bacon scarves, no less. The whole cast cover a wonderfully repellent spectrum, from Steenburgen’s performance of patronising pity towards Stewart’s orphaned protagonist to Brie’s cold disregard and Holland’s suffocating enthusiasm. Batting for the other side is Dan Levy, whose perfect portrayal as Abby’s best friend and the world’s worst pet-sitter provides the relief we crave whilst going some way to alleviate the shattering loss felt after the final series of Schitt’s Creek. The whole ensemble is supported by a tight script that isn’t too proud for visual gags – a scene spent in an actual closet is a particular highlight.
But aside from the comedy, the screenplay touches on some delicate issues. Most impressively, despite allowing Harper to frustrate us to the point of exasperation, her character’s inability to come out (until dragged out) is given the context it requires, her sexuality smothered by patriarchal country clubs and political campaigns while an untethered Abby drinks to a live soundtrack of joyous drag queens. The film addresses the consequences of homophobia without letting it truly take hold, and a melodramatic climax gives way to a refreshingly stripped-back moment of emotion in the unaesthetic setting of a petrol station. If you’re willing to embrace the inevitable segment that ends every Christmas movie, in which all of the characters have dramatically altered their personalities to become altogether better humans, you may just be transported to a better world.
Happiest Season is released digitally on demand on 26th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Happiest Season here: