The Happiest Season

The Happiest Season

Dept. of Making the Yuletide Gay


I will say this, Kristen Stewart really is incredible. Now, unlike the rest of you, I am not a recent convert to her church. I’ve loved her from way back when she pouted her way through those Twilight movies and my adoration has only continued to grow. Here, in The Happiest Season, she brings all of those acting chops to bear, putting on one brave face after another, as her character Abby is used, lied to, ignored, degraded, gaslighted, and shoved into one horrible situation after another.

The best thing about The Happiest Season might be Kristen Stewart’s face as she masterfully blends awkwardness and discomfort with love and understanding in every scene.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from a movie that promised a gay makeover of an increasingly tired genre, but I wasn’t expecting a plot line from the 1990s. I didn’t think that The Happiest Season, of all movies, would plant itself so firmly within that festive movie tradition. You know the one I’m talking about. Where going home for the holidays usually involves at least some enormous deception about who you are and the life you’re living.

And even when it did, I was hoping for something sharper, smarter, and a lot less sanitised.

The Happiest Season

The story is as generic as they come. After getting caught up in the romance of a wonderful night together, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invites her longterm girlfriend, Abby (Kristen Stewart), to spend Christmas at home with her very white, very wealthy, and very conservative family. Abby says yes and, armed with a beautiful baguette diamond ring, decides to use this opportunity to ask Harper’s father permission to marry her. What she doesn’t know, or rather, what Harper neglects to mention until they’re about seven minutes from her home, is that no one in her entire hometown, her family included, knows that she’s gay. Instead, they’ve been told that Abby is her straight roommate, with no parents, and nowhere to go for Christmas.

Harper promises to tell her family everything after the holidays, but has to play it straight until then because her father is running for mayor and can’t possibly have anything quite so scandalous take place during his campaign.

Realising that the woman she loves isn’t ready to come out publicly, and ignoring the fact that she’s been lied to all this time, Abby agrees to climb back into the closet and go along with the plan. It is, after all, just five days over Christmas. What could possibly go wrong?

Hijinks ensue. Only they don’t. Not really.

The Happiest Season

Nothing that happens to Abby throughout this movie is particularly funny. (Some of it is actually quite mean spirited.) The dialogue is lifeless. (When Harper’s mum finds Abby hiding in the broom closet: “What are you doing in the closet?” Ugh.) The gags are tired. (There is a completely unnecessary sequence featuring two mall cops played by Timothy Simons and Lauren Lapkus that feels like it was pulled from an Adam Sandler movie.) The characters are caricatures. (Oh look, it’s the neglected yet dutiful younger sister!)

It doesn’t help that the central relationship between Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis is so ice cold and aloof that you’re left struggling to feel anything for them. As Abby gets shunted around from place to place, ignored by Harper and forced to endure her self-involved family, you can’t help but question why she’s stuck around for this long. Then again, maybe the point of all of this was to show that love can truly be blind. Even the big mea culpa monologue at the end of the movie was so half-hearted and anti-climactic that I was pretty sure Abby was going to get into the car and drive away. She doesn’t.

In fact, there is nothing about this story that unfolds organically. Instead, we are forced to rely on clichéd kinks, and ticks, and quirks to figure out why everyone is behaving the way they are.

I wish I could tell you that it’s at least a blast watching Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen playing WASPs, but given that we are told nothing about their religious or political leanings, it’s clear that this is a movie that is still trying to appeal to the widest audience possible. Republicans watch movies too. And they aren’t bad people. All they need is one night to sleep on it, and they too will come around.

The Happiest Season

If you are trying to update the Christmas movie into something that’s modern and inclusive, maybe it’s a good idea to take on those tried and tested tropes. Twist them. Turn them. Subvert them in some way. Why be afraid to call out bad ideas and bad behaviour? Why not use the opportunity to talk about the real reason these types of movies continue to be the way they are?

The Christmas movie is a political tool. They are the last bastion of conservative values in cinema. Every year, they reinforce that wholesome ideal of how families should behave and what the holidays should be. Which is why to make a movie like this one, and not challenge that, isn’t just boring, it’s disappointing.

There’s a reason Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is such a great movie. It was confrontational. It inspired a conversation. While still being funny, and dramatic, and entertaining. But most of all, it was aware that merely existing wasn’t enough to make it good, or worthy, or meaningful.

The Happiest Season
102 minutes
Director: Clea DuVall
Writers: Clea DuVall and Mary Holland
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Mary Holland, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen

The Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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