I don’t really like Christmas all that much. It’s an obnoxious holiday that is basically the same as the two before it (Halloween & Thanksgiving), but it comes with a financial obligation and the music is super annoying. Seriously, you wear silly things like you do on Halloween and you have big meals with family and friends, but you also are (in many circles) obligated to buy people things. This was my attitude for most of my life, but doing Secret Santa exchanges with my friend-family and the movies that give me a reason for the season have really done a lot for me in the last few years. I get one film a year to love, and I always treasure adding a new one to my stable of holiday hits.
This year I was gifted Happiest Season, and it’s so damn charming that I could burst.
The new film, written and directed by Clea DuVall (The Invervention), follows a young couple as they navigate family holidays. Abby (Kristen Stewart) lost her parents around Christmas and has been avoiding the holiday ever since. Her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), is a Christmas-loving nerd that is headed home for the holidays and, in a moment of yuletide bliss, invites Abby home with her. Her prominent father, Ted (Victor Garber), is running for mayor of his town with the support of his wife, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen). Abby plans to propose Christmas morning in a burst of Christmas joy, but halfway to the destination she discovers that Harper has not yet come out to her family. Both are forced to confront the situation and deal with the consequences as they make the attempt to finalize their love and their place in a family.
Oh, and the film also co-stars…*ahem*:
- Alison Brie
- Aubrey Plaza
- Jake McDorman
- Dan Levy
- Mary Holland
- Lauren Lapkus
- Michelle Buteau
Outside of the stacked cast, the film comes with a ridiculous amount of Christmas joy and enough sugar to power an entire swarm of sugarplum fairies for the entire season. I appreciate that it never reaches the levels of cloying it could have, instead allowing these people to deal with circumstances common to many Midwestern American W.A.S.P.s (and we deal with them every goddamned year). Ted and Tipper are the epitome of “style over substance,” a couple that very much relies on appearances and their standing in their social community to create their life. They’ve done the same for their children: Harper is a prominent writer, Sloane (Alison Brie) is a progressive mother of two that has found financial success with her husband by partnering with Paltrow’s “Goop” label (ugh), and Jane (Mary Holland)…well, she’s the one that just wants to matter. It’s a glorious little stew of common problems that still feels cathartic to watch. Many of us have families that will never acknowledge or deal with the very real problems within, and it is borderline arousing to see even a fake family do so.
There are some things I want to address. I’m a cisgendered male, so I would love for anyone outside of this weighing in. I always truly hope we can have a queer lead that doesn’t have to deal with feelings of rejection for their orientation. Whether it’s a coming-out story or one of triumph, from Milk (2008) to Moonlight (2016), so many films are about the struggle to just exist. These films are important, and sometimes achingly beautiful, but it seems to be the main type of film that can get made if it’s about a queer individual. If the queer character isn’t dealing with that specific struggle they are often relegated to the comedic relief. I really would love someone to weigh in on this, please. I feel like it’s an issue but I’m not really qualified to weigh in.
Okay, so that’s on the table. Aside from my worries on that…this thing’s just absolutely charming. Stewart and Davis are two of our finest performers, and allowing them to be so sincere and loving towards each other just makes for fireworks. For Stewart and director DuVall, both of whom are openly queer and supportive of many LBGTQ+ communities, it feels especially direct and special. Stewart feels particularly in fine form as someone that hates Christmas due to personal tragedy. For many, this damned expensive holiday is torture. I just don’t see pathos like this in most Christmas movies, with most of the offered wares being of the “Hallmark Hunk” variety as an uptight woman learns that maybe having her bell jingled is all she needs to understand why we all go red, green, and broke during December. Abby, as a character, just feels…relatable.
This isn’t going to quickly become a Christmas classic for most, but it’s a winner in my book. Aside from the worries I have about it’s familiar queer story, the stacked cast and absolutely charming tone of the entire thing is heartwarming and makes my world light up. I honestly cried at a couple of points, a thing Christmas movies don’t do to me. Wrapped in ritual, progressive to a point, and sweet as all hell, Happiest Season is a good time and I’m looking forward to watching it again next year.
Happiest Season is currently streaming on Hulu.