REVIEW: HAPPIEST SEASON
Happiest Season truly is the gay Christmas movie that every LGBTQ person has been waiting for. Even in the most “progressive” gay movies of the past two decades, the queer-baiting and lack of affection between the two gay protagonists has been staggering. From Supernatural to Carol, being gay has felt forbidden even in the context of it being forbidden, but Happiest Season finally provides every earnest lesbian kiss, every tense moment, every real fight that we haven’t been able to see because it’s so provocative.
The movie opens with a classic rom-com montage in which Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart) goes through every relationship step with her girlfriend, Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis whom many may remember from other lesbian classic, the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror) from meeting to the first kiss to moving in together over the course of 10 months. This picturesque relationship scene is followed by Abby meeting with her friend John (Schitt’s Creek creator and star Dan Levy) to buy an engagement ring to propose to Harper on Christmas morning. Of course John reacts with a cry of this being a hyper-traditional trope (despite which I still love).
As the couple travels to Harper’s hometown for the holidays, she asks Abby to pretend to be her roommate because her family thinks she is straight.. This is an act familiar to many out LGBT people, forced to suppress themselves and go back in the closet in order to preserve sanctity to those unable to live freely as their true selves.
Abby is quickly wrapped into the seemingly perfect, but clearly toxic environment that is Harper’s family. Mr. Caldwell is running for mayor of their small Pennsylvania town and the rest of the clan must be a picturesque, Instagram-friendly family to impress a certain political donor. Abby is forced to navigate the week through the family’s warped dynamic while keeping up the facade of a straight girl. But lucky for Abby, she befriends Riley Johnson (Aubrey Plaza), Harper’s ex-girlfriend who I fell deeply in love with and I’m sure you will too. Thirty minutes deep, this movie became not only my favorite Christmas movie, but one of my favorite movies of all time (and in case you couldn’t already tell: I’m a movie buff, so that’s saying A LOT).
Director/writer/producer Clea Duvall (of indie-darling fame:Girl, Interrupted and The Faculty) has produced a movie that not only embodies a common queen experience, but also a wholesome rom-com that combines the perfect amount of drama, wit and sincerity that everyone needs and loves during this time of year.
Happiest Season isn’t a movie you need to be gay or straight for; it’s a holiday movie about navigating an unfamiliar family in uncomfortable ways while trying to keep your head above water. Duvall hit the mark with the intersection of a rom-com and a holiday film as cliche tropes are sprinkled throughout the movie –– but in a fresh and innovative way that feels familiar, but not overdone. Each character is properly developed ––from the protagonist to the apparent comedic relief––so much so that viewers are rooting for all of them. This is a movie I will not shut up about this holiday season and probably every future holiday season. When you watch it, you’ll understand why.