Family secrets come out in heartwarming and pioneering festive rom com Happiest Season, from actress turned director Clea DuVall
Netflix have revitalised the Christmas movie market in the last few years churning out countless family movies and silly rom coms of immense popularity despite often questionable quality – so it’s no surprise that other studios are now starting to get in on the act. Happiest Season is being distributed by US streaming giant Hulu and promises all the relaxing festive charm you hope for in this gloomy time of year. The film stars Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as her girlfriend Harper. Abby plans to propose to Harper on New Years Eve but plans change when the pair find themselves spending Christmas in Harper’s conservative home town. Abby learns that Harper is not out to her family and the two lovebirds must pretend to be straight roommates so as not to cause a fuss over the holidays. Predictably, hijinks ensue.
Family secrets coming out at Christmas has long been the staple of holiday movies so it’s surprising it’s taken this long to get one about a literal coming out. Writer and director Clea DuVall has said Happiest Season is semi autobiographical and she wrote it hoping to represent her own experiences on screen. She’s assembled an all star LGBTQ led cast to do so with Stewart being backed by several fan favourite sitcom stars; Community and Glow’s Alison Brie, Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza and Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy all have excellent supporting roles. There’s also a fun cameo appearances from two of Rupaul’s Drag Race most loved alumni Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme.
You can rest easy that Happiest Season has all the tropes you come to expect from Christmassy couple movies. There’s the grumpy partner who doesn’t like Christmas contrasted with the enthusiastic one, the snowy chocolate box town, warring family members forced to pretend to get along under one roof and plenty of awkward interactions with people from childhood. I felt it steered more to drama than comedy for the most part with angsty moments played with real sensitivity rather than for laughs, but fear not, there are also enough silly moments to break the tension. The audience can feel safe in the knowledge that no matter it’s dramatic highs, Happiest Season is in its bones a schmaltzy Christmas movie and a heartwarming ending is thankfully guaranteed.
I found Kristen Stewart to be really charming, whilst she has spent her post-Twilight years running from that period of her life by making a series of challenging arthouse films for auteur directors it was really lovely to see her being loveable in some lighter fare. Mary Holland who plays Harper’s sister (and is also the co-writer of this film) is the comic highlight whilst Dan Levy brings real heart to the story on top of being the larger than life figure we have come to know and love. Whilst the story line is predictable it doesn’t feel like a bad thing. The cliched happy ending might be mushy but it’s exactly what we want from a Christmas film, and the efforts of the LGBTQ film makers behind and infront of the camera ensure that it feels like a fairly honest representation of genuine lived experiences.
Happiest Season is a very fine bit of festive fare with likeable, believable family and romantic relationships. Whilst it might not replace Elf or Love Actually in your ”endlessly rewatchable Christmas film” list there’s lots to enjoy about it, and it’s about damn time we saw some queer representation in the sappy holiday movie genre.
In the UK Happiest Season is available to buy or rent on digital download from all the usual outlets now. It will be streaming on Sky Cinema and Now TV from 18th December.