Happiest Season Review
‘Tis the season to be jolly and merry and to aid us in both comes Clea DuVall’s wonderful and warm Happiest Season. Featuring a pretty starry ensemble cast, this Hulu romcom is one of those perfect Christmas films - delightful, amusing and perhaps a little forgettable. but only in the sense that it never tries to be anything more than it's designed to be, which is heart-warming, seasonal entertainment.
Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) relationship seems perfect and Abby is getting ready to pop the question. Harper asks Abby to spend the holidays with her and her family and while Abby is hesitant, she ends up saying yes. Realistically, what could go wrong? Plenty, it turns out. Harper has lied to Abby about being out to her family and asks Abby to pretend not only to be Harper’s platonic friend but also straight for the sake of keeping up appearances. Cue funny incidents and a lot of sneaking around.
It’s easy to criticise Happiest Season as yet another LGBTQ+ film that centres on being in the closet and coming out, but it’s not like a lot of the mainstream, commercial romantic comedies coming from Hollywood are centred on LGTBQ+ people, nor do they feature behind the camera calling the shots. Inspired by DuVall’s own experiences, Happiest Season touches upon the more precise anxieties related to coming out, while also offering a very universal and resonant look at love, family and relationships.
The film’s main strength without a doubt is the glorious cast, spearheaded by Davis and Stewart. Stewart especially is so talented and finally able to truly let her range show - she proves to be a comedic talent to watch and her trademark adorable awkwardness brings a lot of warmth into the story. Davis is equally good and shares impeccable chemistry with Stewart but feels at times forgotten by the script penned by DuVall and Mary Holland, who also plays one of Harper’s sisters.
Harper is allowed more focus towards the end, where the narrative comes to an expectedly messy and chaotic high point. Davis beautifully communicates all of Harper’s insecurities and pain she is hiding - Harper isn’t always likeable and Davis isn’t afraid to make her ugly but she always remains relatable, grounded in something that is still a reality for many.
But this is Abby's story rather than Harper’s. Abby is tricked into a situation where she has to deny her identity and try to pass as straight, but her love for Harper makes her play along, although she is clearly uncomfortable. Abby’s arc is equally affecting as it forces her to re-evaluate their relationship and the integrity of Harper’s character and whether this is the person she truly wants to spend the rest of her life with. The film also offers an unfiltered look at family and the high expectations they set and how heavy and restricting that can be.
The supporting cast are equally great, especially Aubrey Plaza as Harper’s ex Riley and Mary Steenburgen as Harper’s steely mother Tipper. Alison Brie, while refreshingly weird and hilarious as Harper’s uptight sister Sloane, occasionally goes too far with her performance and Sloane, despite afforded some depth later on, becomes the film’s villain, whether intended or not. Dan Levy, of Schitt’s Creek fame, brings a lot of laughs, but is also granted some of the most emotional lines in the film.
Visually, Happiest Season is lush and ridiculously Christmassy. It’s one of those films that demands you to get yourself a hot chocolate, wrap yourself in a cosy blanket and blast your favourite Christmas song as soon as the credits start to roll. Happiest Season probably isn’t as funny as you’d expect it to be, nor as cheesy as it should be – all Christmas films are supposed to come with extra cheese – and it could certainly be more overly romantic, but it’s hard to resist its urgent honesty and heartfelt message. This is a Christmas film for the ages, for the families and for the lovers - one that will definitely be a joy to revisit, year after year.
Happiest Season is available on Hulu from November 25 in the US and on PVOD in the UK from November 26.