Spoilers are eating your holiday decorations.
I’m not a fan of typical holiday movies. I will need a little subversiveness or another genre thrown in to get me interested into watching one. This one is actually pretty much a pure holiday film with something new thrown in there. It actually actualizes the entire Christmas thing to modern times and includes some genuine diversity and LGBTQ themes in there without making them the joke. To do that, it does force us to go through some very anxiety-inducing moments which don’t feel completely unrealistic.
Happiest Season (2020) was directed by Clea Duvall who wrote it with Mary Holland. It is the story of Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a couple going back to stay with Harper’s parents for Christmas. Abby is planning to propose to Harper on Christmas morning. At this point, we can already guess that’s not going to happen. During the drive over, Harper drops a bomb on Abby. She’s never come out to her parents. Abby has to pretend to be her roommate.
I had a lot of cringy, anxiety moments with this film, specially at the beginning. The family is a bit overwhelming and you have to give props to Stewart for nailing awkward yet determined to be socially approachable with such a close knit family. We soon learn that Harper’s father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor. That means he and his wife Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) are fully engrossed in projecting the image of a happy family. They seem to had decided to have one pedestal that their children must fight over to stand on.
Harper seems like the favorite, which both parents proclaim out loud in front of their other two daughters, Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland, screenplay co-writer). Sloane and Harper have an ongoing rivalry that seems to border on open hostility. Sloane and her husband Eric (Burl Moseley) were their parents’ favorites when they both had promising law careers, but now they make gift baskets as Tipper bitterly explains. Poor Jane strives to get attention for her family and finds solace in a fantasy novel she’s been writing for a long time. She only gets remembered when the internet requires fixing. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for her.
There are two bright rays of sunshine in this tension knot. Abby’s best friend John (Daniel Levy) brings much needed sarcastic commentary a phone call away. As Harper seems to feel forced to become her old self, Abby’s alone times get a lot of hilarity during her calls with John. She also gets some insight into Harper’s past as she meets Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley (Aubrey Plaza). Riley becomes a lifesaver for both Abby and the audience, as she manages to be the friend that Abby needs right now. She’s got good chemistry with Abby. You want to root for them to be together.
Here’s probably why the odds seem against Abby and Harper to stay together. We did see them having a brief moment at the beginning, but the movie has mostly shown us Harper re-acquiring her old traits. She’s fighting her sister Sloane, pretending to be a perfect daughter, frequenting her old girlfriends AND spending time with her ex-boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman). Harper is coded by movie language as becoming more self-centered and forgetting about Abby easily. As the audience, we want Abby to be happy with the person that seems to make her happy most of the time. It’s natural we want her to gravitate towards Riley.
I strongly empathize with Abby. I wouldn’t want to end up staying inside a family house where even the kids shoot daggers at me. It’s even worse when the little rascals get her in trouble for shoplifting and Tipper starts implying Abby has taken stuff from the house. I wanted Abby to grab her stuff and bolt out of that place. However, I can also see how Harper is inclined to behave like everyone else expects her the moment she steps back inside her parent’s place. You want to get by wearing your old self when you go home for the holidays and hide the more controversial aspects of yourself in front of family and relatives, specially the more conservative ones.
Strongly recommended with reservations. You have some of characters you empathize with, but you also have your share of people saying terrible things to other people they’re related to. There are memorable performances by the main cast, specially Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Daniel Levy and Aubrey Plaza. There’s also a lot of anxious moments to get through. I love there’s at least diversity in the cast and LGTBQ positivity. The movie still going for the happy ending with perfect family photo finish where love wins, but I wouldn’t mind Abby and Riley together. Less perfect works better for me.
That will do for now.