Happiest Season (2020): Review

As November falls away and the end of the year beckons, things are getting Christmassy here on When The Credits Roll.

My first real ‘Christmas’ movie of the season and what a way to begin. Happiest Season was directed by Clea DuVall and co-written by DuVall and Mary Holland, who also stars in the film as Jane. The film stars Kristen Stewart & Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper. Rounding out the supporting cast are Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, and Jake McDorman.

Happiest Season tells the story of a lesbian couple, Abby and Harper, who visit Harper’s family for the Christmas holiday…with a catch. They don’t know that Abby and Harper are together, with Abby posing as Harper’s orphaned roommate instead. The premise itself already evokes some natural comedic elements, but it’s the sincere writing that brings out of the best of this concept.

DuVall and Holland’s script is full of lively, carefully written characters and not a single one feels out of place. Everyone serves a purpose to the story in some way and there’s development in everyone, whether from the writing itself or the terrific performances.

Stewart and Davis are great in the lead roles; Stewart’s natural screen presence helps her here as it allows her to really shine while trying to impress the family, yet still feeling somewhat disjointed within the dynamic. Davis is similarly impressive in the other half of the relationship as Harper tries to create her own life with Abby while simultaneously trying to balance the mammoth expectations of her family’s lifestyle.

Happiest Season doesn’t pretend that everything is ever okay or sugarcoat the difficulties of the relationship, but it also doesn’t drown the relationship in the melancholic sorrow like other LGBT-focused films have done in the past. It’s entirely genuine in all of its ups and downs and it’s a testament to the team assembled behind this film that such a balance is able to be portrayed.

While Stewart and Davis’ relationship is the heart of the film, it’s the strength of the supporting cast and their character that gives it an extra edge. Aubrey Plaza’s Riley is such a fresh take on a familiar trope that I always wanted to see more of her. Alison Brie’s high-strung sibling rivalry with Davis is entertaining, particularly when you start to look underneath the surface at the depth of the relationship and what it means to them. Honestly though, the two unsung heroes of this movie are Dan Levy and Mary Holland. Levy brings such a mixture of hilarity and sincerity to his character that it’s always so entertaining to watch, and he has a monologue towards the end of the film that is so brilliantly written and performed that it’s by far one of the best moments of the film. Mary Holland’s Jane, another of Harper’s siblings, the black sheep of the family and boy does she play it well. Her eccentricities are never too much, always tonally balanced in a way that makes sense for the story and provides some great moments between her and Steenburgen, who also has some great moments. When Jane’s story takes a brief turn into the heartwarming, Holland sells every single moment and was probably my favourite character in the film.

Happiest Season doesn’t reinvent the wheel of a Christmas movie, but it does bring a new approach to the genre, mostly thanks to Clea DuVall’s overwhelmingly sense of honesty in storytelling. If any nitpicks I have with the film, I’d say there just wasn’t enough of Stewart and Davis, which may just be me wanting to see more and more of them on screen together. I could have honestly watched a lot more of all of these characters so that barely counts as a problem with the film, more so that it was so good that I wanted a lot more.

I can see this being a remedy to the heart-wrenching romance of the other popular LGBT Christmas film, Carol, and it’s definitely something that I will be watching every year without fail. I’ll probably end up watching this once again this Christmas season. This film is going to mean a lot to a lot of people and I can’t wait to witness people finding this film year in and year out and seeing the impact that it has on them. DuVall leaves us with the message to be proud of who we are, as well as acknowledging that everybody’s story is different and there’s no ‘best’ way to handle something. It’s such a pure, honest message that I think is so sorely needed at this time in society, just a sincere, fun Christmas movie with the best intentions and a whole lot of talent in front of and behind the camera.

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