The Christmas comedy was released in the USA as a Hulu original without much fanfare HAPPIEST SEASON USA areas. And it’s definitely worth a look, and not just because of the outstanding ensemble. We reveal more about this in our review.
Happiest Season (USA/CAN 2020)
Meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time can be difficult. It’s even more difficult to carry out the plan to propose to her at the annual Christmas dinner – until you realize that the family doesn’t even suspect that she is a lesbian. When Abby (Kristen Stewart) learns that her true love Harper (Mackenzie Davis) has kept their relationship a secret from her family until today, she begins to question her plans. At first she even finds the game of hide-and-seek in front of her future in-laws a little fun, but over time it wears both women down that they can’t simply stand by their love. It’s a good thing that this Christmas has more than one surprise in store for Harper and her family…
Director and screenwriter Clea DuVall (“One like Alaska”) conceived her Christmas comedy “Happiest Season” as a kind of reappraisal of her own story. The filmmaker, who entered the Hollywood business as an actress – she played roles in “Argo”, “The Faculty” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”, among others – once experienced a chaotic Christmas like the one described here and was involuntarily outed as homosexual in front of her family. While not every story of this type has a happy ending – Ryan Murphy’s dazzling Broadway musical adaptation “The Prom” is currently not only setting the tone on Netflix, but also provides an insight into the other side despite the happy ending – DuVall hit it with her initially distant family, who quickly turn out to be open-minded. Perfect material for a Christmas fairy tale with tonally diverse accents, for which the filmmaker was able to recruit four actors from the LGBTQ+ community: Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, and Aubrey Plaza. We don’t know whether it is due to the nature of the matter that the ensemble performs so detachedly and passionately due to its proximity to the topic. However, in the film there is little acting and more lived-in feeling. And that’s far from the only strong thing that can be said about “Happiest Season.”
Abby (Kristen Stewart) also meets Riley (Aubrey Plaza) at the party – her partner Harper’s first friend.
It is true that a pending outing is at the center of the plot in the story the narrative driving force that gets everything going, keeps it going and later ends it. The fact that “Happiest Season” is still not a typical “problem film” – for a while it seemed as if the film industry could only tell stories about the lives of LGBTQ+ people if it dealt with the social structural problems of these people at the same time – is a fact Security is also due to the fact that Clea DuVall reports from her own experience. It allows its protagonists to understand the situation according to the circumstances without automatically perishing because of it. The game of hide-and-seek is initially a bit of fun, especially for Abby, while Harper, on the other hand, threatens to suffocate more and more over time. The fear of the reaction of the parents (who are obviously more conservative) does not poison the mood right from the start; on the contrary: For a long time, Clea DuVall left it completely open whether Harper’s fears were actually justified. “Happiest Season” never seems like a film that not could lead to a happy ending. Nevertheless, the ambivalent atmosphere, which alternates between harmonious, nasty, loving and conflict-laden, leads to the conclusion that not everyone could be in each other’s arms in the end, but that this happy ending is more likely to come with barbs.
“The fact that “Happiest Season” is still not a typical “problem film” – for a while it seemed as if the film industry could only tell stories about the lives of LGBTQ+ people if it dealt with the social structural problems of these same people in the same breath – is certainly also due to the fact that Clea DuVall reports on her own experiences.”
Nevertheless, Clea DuVall takes the fears of her main characters seriously. The initially childlike, naive joy that Harper managed to sneak into Abby’s room without being seen gradually grows into an awareness of how stressful this situation actually is. This applies to both the loving couple and those around them; Because ultimately, not only Abby deserves that Harper no longer denies her, but also Harper’s family, who until the end assumed that Abby was just Harper’s roommate. And so “Happiest Season” heads a little predictably towards the all-important escalation, but as a result it also breaks away from making the secret outing its origin. At the beginning of the film you ask yourself whether the very strange portrayal of Harper’s sisters Sloane (“Community” star Alison Brie in a surprisingly nasty role) and Jane (Mary Holland plays the inexperienced klutz, who is visibly out of line with her professional and… Sisters who are privately firmly established in their lives) is good for the otherwise authentic drawing of such a family reunion, the reasons why every character in “Happiest Season” has to be exactly as they are portrayed here are revealed in the last third. The audience will then see Jane in particular with completely different eyes.
Abby, along with her true love Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and her best friend John (Daniel Levy).
Without pushing her urgent appeal for tolerance into the background, Clea DuVall presents her story with so much charm, heart and, above all, humor that it also fulfills everything you would hope for from a typical family Christmas story of this kind. Between loud arguments, a lot of pretend, but just as much real harmony, the author places various smug observations that, despite their running gag character, can only be so easily included in a film if you have experienced them yourself. It’s not just striking when Jane hardly hears a personal word from her parents, but is constantly confronted with the fact that some of the technical devices in the house aren’t working again. Likewise, Harper’s mother’s omnipresent worries about finally taking the perfect family photo simply don’t serve the purpose of putting her in a whimsical light. Every gag in “Happiest Season” accomplishes the feat of accurately characterizing the characters. This even includes slapstick and grand gestures – we’re just thinking of an argument that results in a painting being broken. And the cast – especially Kristen Stewart (“Underwater”) – it’s obviously good to perform in such a relaxed atmosphere.
“Between loud arguments, a lot of acting, but just as much real harmony, the author places various smug observations that, despite their running gag character, can only be so easily included in a film if you have experienced them yourself.”
Nevertheless, Clea DuVall also allows herself to make narrative detours here and there that would only have been necessary to a limited extent. The fact that Abby calls her best friend John (Daniel Levy) at regular intervals to keep him up to date on what’s going on with her in-laws seems a bit like a delayed voice-over in which Abby tells the audience in detail about her share the emotional chaos. The events actually speak for themselves and no longer require any additional classification. The subplot surrounding Harper’s dad becoming a politician also seems to have the sole purpose of making father Ted (Victor Garber) appear as purified as possible in a striking scene in the finale. However, such weaknesses do not detract from the fun of “Happiest Season” – Clea DuVall has created a Christmas film with the potential to become a classic.
Conclusion: Every now and then director and writer Clea DuVall wants a little too much, but even in the weaker moments, “Happiest Season” is still a sweet Christmas comedy in which the serious core surrounding an impending outing comes to fruition so excellently, because the story is based on true events.
“Happiest Season” is available on VOD in United Kingdom.