“Sharp-witted and touching, with an all-star cast.”
Clea DuVall made history this Christmas season by writing and directing the first ever studio-produced lesbian film in what is arguably the most heterosexual movie genre to ever exist. The entire idea of a Christmas romcom has always been widely associated as something of a straight affair, with the plots of these films mostly being completely identical. The typical lead couple – often ludicrously named “Nick” and “Holly” – will spend the entire film in a small, snowy Christmas town, pining for each other’s affections. And, after a few snowball fights and shared longing glances, will almost certainly end up together after a kiss under the mistletoe. Which is why Happiest Season (2020), entirely one-of-a-kind in its premise, is just so delightful. It provides a whole new twist on the lovey-dovey festive style that has become so set in stone, whilst still providing all of the aspects we typically love about these sappy, predictable holiday love stories.
When Abby (Kristen Stewart) is invited to spend Christmas with her adoring girlfriend’s seemingly perfect family, she is, for the first time, enthusiastic about Christmas, and is even prepared to propose. What girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) fails to mention, however, is the minor detail that her high-achieving family, who express their love and pride for each other based on how perfectly they manage to appear to the outside world, don’t know that she is a lesbian. When out-and-proud Abby is begged to keep up the straight facade for the duration of the Holidays, posing as Harper’s orphaned roommate, the trip fast becomes a very awkward one, full of run-ins with high school ex’s and excessive amounts of time spent dodging probing questions.
Underneath having everything that is routinely loved about these typical festive classics, Happiest Season serves as a refreshingly honest and sensitive look into the pressures of the Christmas period, high family expectations, and the fear of letting them down by revealing long-hidden secrets. This is something that is rarely seen in mainstream cinema, let alone in a festive film. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community, and especially for those who have not yet felt ready to come out to their family. The film is entirely validating for those people, and provides a lot of hope whilst simultaneously making everyone feel completely seen. The film delicately walks the line between tackling these hard-hitting topics and remaining lighthearted and merry, but genuinely succeeds. It all remains sweet and frivolous enough to want to rewatch again and again.
What really helps this film stand out is the absolute elite cast. Full of household names, it’s so packed with talent you often don’t know where to look. Whether the screen is graced by the two leads, Abby’s eccentrically gay best friend John (Daniel Levy), the uptight older sister of Harper, Sloane (Alison Brie), the warm-hearted, oddball middle sister Jane (Mary Holland), the overbearing yet completely fabulous mother (Mary Steenburgen) , the conservative father (Victor Garber), or Riley (Aubrey Plaza) Harper’s enigmatic ex-girlfriend, everybody delivered. You will be hard pushed to find a better supporting cast in any release from this year.
Happiest Season is sharp-witted and touching, so much so that it almost feels unfair to draw comparisons between it and other films in its league. It is engaging and has something for everybody, whilst in the same instant being a big step for representation and feeling so personal for the queer community. Being written by DuVall, who is openly gay, it felt so authentic and in turn, became a much more personal and credible cinematic experience. With so much important representation that will mean a lot to so many people, you’d have a hard time finding reason to dislike this new festive favourite. One thing is for certain, Happiest Season will be up there with the Christmas classics in years to come.