I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas, but I am a huge fan of romantic comedies which inevitably means that I dial my Scrooge-meter down to zero and watch the many holiday rom-coms that the season has to offer. And when the trailer for Happiest Season, a Hulu Original holiday rom-com, came out, I was immediately locked in. Directed by Clea DuVall, with a screenplay from DuVall and Mary Holland, Happiest Season showcases the stress of the holidays, meeting the parents, and well, coming out. The film stars Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Burl Moseley, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen.
Abby (Kristin Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are in love. They’re adorable and Abby is ready to move to the next stage: marriage. But Abby wants to do things as traditional as possible, which means the first time that she will meet Harper’s parents is also when she’ll ask Harper’s dad for his blessing. With all the holiday trimmings, Happiest Season looks like it’s going to just be a simple awkward meet the parent’s rom-com but there is one problem. Abby isn’t just going to have to worry about making a good first impression, she has to play along with Harper’s assertion that well, she isn’t gay. Despite telling Abby that she was out to her parents, it turns out that Harper has kept their relationship a secret from her family. What was supposed to be the next step in their relationship turns into a realization for Abby that her girlfriend isn’t who she thought.
While this setting makes itself fitting for a drama, Happiest Season is a rom-com through and through. The film hilariously captures the range of emotions tied to wanting your family’s acceptance, being true to yourself, and how your path to being unapologetically you can hurt those around you. Through happenstance and competitive family dynamics, Abby winds up learning a lot more about Harper than she bargained for, especially when she begins to spend time with people from Harper’s past. The humor in those situations comes from situational awkwardness and Stewart’s ability to play off of pretty much any person you put her in a scene with.
This is especially true when Stewart is on camera with Aubrey Plaza who plays Harper’s high school sweetheart and first girlfriend Riley. Their matter-of-fact presentation of humor and their ability to use cynicism to comedic effect is unmatched and truthfully, I would watch a rom-com staring them both as the leads. In fact, their chemistry and humor are so well done that I found myself wanting to see them together and not rooting for Harper, especially as you learn more about her.
And that is the only fault in Happiest Season. Everything Harper does makes her unlikeable, even when the film aims to give background to why she’s making the selfish choices that she is. It’s hard to root for Harper and Abby because it becomes clear that the former has hurt multiple people in the past while trying to appease her family. That being said, the film does a phenomenal job of showcasing how large a moment “coming out” is. When it finally happens, Abby is unsure, and her best friend John, played by the hilarious Dan Levy, adds some perspective.
John explains that the only thing all “coming out” moments have in common is the moment right before—the fear and the anxiety and deep breath you take before you speak your truth. As much as John is telling Abby to help her understand that she can’t map her own experience onto Harper’s, he is also speaking to the audience. He’s telling us to not be too hard on Harper and to ultimately come to understand her. That said, Happiest Season succeeds despite Harper because even the plea to understand comes too late after we’ve seen how she treats Abby. Truly, this is Abby’s movie, and Stewart carries all of the weight.
Happiest Season is also one of the very few queer rom-coms available right now, and it carries the burden of representation well enough, making sure to subvert tropes while also embracing the standard rom-com formula. It also doesn’t punish any of its characters for their choices and instead offers up moments of growth for them. This is most clear in the final act when Harper’s parents talk about their daughters and the secrets they’ve kept from them, noting their role in making their children feel like they couldn’t live their truth.
Overall, Happiest Season isn’t about the holidays, it’s about the stress they can cause, family expectations and dynamics, and how choosing to stay by someone’s side and allowing them grace to find themselves can be one of the most important acts. This film is hilarious and heartfelt and, ultimately, it’s much needed in the heteronormative world of holiday rom-coms.
Happiest Season is available to stream exclusively on Hulu on November 26, 2020.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Happiest Season isn’t about the holidays, it’s about the stress they can cause, family expectations and dynamics, and how choosing to stay by someone’s side and allowing them grace to find themselves can be one of the most important acts. This film is hilarious and heartfelt and, ultimately, it’s much needed in the heteronormative world of holiday rom-coms.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.