Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are planning to visit Harper’s parent for Christmas, where the former secretly plans to propose the latter on the special day. “I’m good with parents,” Abby confidently soars when Harper invites her over; unbeknownst to her, Harper never comes out to her parents about her sexuality, let alone her serious relationship with Abby. On the way to the parents’ house, Harper finally gets the guts to confess to her lover and asks her to play along as someone she’s not—an orphaned roommate who has nowhere to go during the holiday season.
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Happiest Season embraces the notion that there’s nothing more compelling than spending a perfect Christmas moments with beloved ones. In delivering such a notion, actress and a long-time lesbian icon, Clea DuVall, directs and co-writes this queer rom-com with Mary Holland, with authenticity and wit while assembling a massive casts and crews filled with out queer, bi, and LGBT allies. The forward vision of a warm holiday reunion uniting Stewart, Davis, with familiar names like Holland (also starring as Davis’ sister), Alison Brie, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, and Oscar-winning Mary Steenburgen on the frame feels cordial and pleasing. But, DuVall and Holland’s script cleverly adds the right lie at the right time as a perfect catalyst to brew conflict so it can be served hot on Christmas Day.
Stewart captures the frustration perfectly as her character has to cover up her lover’s lies with more lies. It’s almost as frustrating to witness Abby finding the closest crack to prevent her from slipping. Stewart edges between her character’s burden and pure comedic moments in most moments like when she’s almost slipping between conveying that she’s an orphan or Harper’s roommate, while she’s, on the script, both. Abby’s frustration roots from her helplessness to help Harper being what her family expects her to be or to break it to them about who she actually is. Love has taken its toll on Abby; but, even so, Happiest Season isn’t entirely her story as the narrative leans towards Harper’s struggle to become two things at once.
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Davis, the other half of the story, sympathetically portrays the lover in the closet struggling with her family issues. With Harper’s father (Garber, an out gay) running for mayoral election, she’s had the burden to present her family in a light portrait against the seemingly conservative townies. Her fast-talking mother (Steenburgen) is an obsessive woman who loves controls. Meanwhile, her sisters are all competitive; Sloane (Brie) puts forward her own family into the equation and Jane (Holland) always tries to please her parents whenever she can. In Harper’s family, love has to be earned; that’s why she has to always present the perfect daughter persona. Happiest Season digs this up a little too eager and, at the same time, shoves Abby in the background as a frustrated observant with everything to lose. The thing is, the problem that Harper’s family exaggerates over and over is clunked out with a tad too many problems of privileged, educated, conservative white family. There’s nothing completely wrong in that, but the story somehow relies on the entitlement a little too much that it feels distant.
When all the rich cosmetics are stripped down, however, Happiest Season shows its true nature—a warm holiday rom-com that feels new, even when it has always been there all the time. Stewart cements herself perfectly as an LGBT icon; while Davis portrays the reluctance formidably and convincingly. It’s a bit of embarrassment that Dan Levy’s underused except for being a gay sidekick and Aubrey Plaza’s character flirts and stops by in a glance only. Even son, Stewart and Davis’ warm chemistry has ushered this love story eloquently to kiss under the mistletoe.