Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart star in Happiest Season – a holiday-themed romantic-comedy with a difference.
Davis plays Harper, an established journalist who comes from an affluent, loving, and somewhat competitive family. Her partner, Abby (Stewart), a pet-minder, hasn’t been so lucky on the family front, with both her parents deceased. The holiday season has always been hard for Abby, so Harper decides to invite her to spend Christmas week with her family, to which Abby agrees. Unbeknownst to Abby is that Harper has yet to tell her parents that she is gay, making things all the more awkward for Abby. Tensions between the couple rise as Harper continues to keep the ruse going in front of her family, while Abby considers the best option for her future.
Happiest Season sticks to a fairly tried and true romantic-comedy movie formula, but with the twist of basing the premise on a queer relationship. The lesbian relationship is a breath of fresh air for the holiday-themed movie, though it just isn’t enough to call this film truly unique. All of the standard rom-com/Christmas movie tropes are there, with the same old story beats that we’re used to from mainstream movies like this one. Of course, this is intentional by writer/director/actor Clea DuVall, who wants to tell the other side of the story and show audiences that Christmas isn’t as ‘traditional’ as it once was.
Inclusivity and acceptance are the prominent themes that run throughout Happiest Season and are handled with care and poise by DuVall. Her script allows for the message to get through to the audience without being preachy, while conveying the difficulties faced by same-sex couples in family situations such as this one, without overtly painting any side of the parties in a negative light, making for a fairly neutral portrait of a modern family. This portrayal works well enough to keep the viewer engaged, but the story lacks any significant conflict between characters. This is a Christmas movie after all, so it can be forgiven for taking a lighter tone.
Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart are both great in their respective roles, though are overshadowed by supporting cast-members, Mary Holland as Jane, Harper’s well-to-do sister, and Dan Levy as John, Abby’s confidant, and friend-in-need. Holland and Levy serve as the film’s comedy relief and steal the show in every scene they’re in, to the point where had their characters not been included, we’d be watching a different film, a much more drab film.
Happiest Season doesn’t break the holiday movie mold, nor does it add anything to the romantic-comedy sub-genre, but it does enough to balance the above alongside its progressive themes to make for a Christmas movie that we don’t get very often, which is enough for the price for the admission. And at the end of the day, it’s a feel-good movie, which is always welcome.
The Oxwood, the gay bar where Abby and Riley have drinks, is a tribute to The Oxwood Inn, a lesbian bar in Los Angeles that closed in 2017. It was the last lesbian bar in Los Angeles at the time of its closing.