I love holiday rom-coms; there’s just something so heart-warming about watching two people fall in love or celebrate their love against a wintry backdrop. However, crafting a holiday rom-com is no easy feat, it takes more than just having two good looking people on screen sizzling with chemistry, the rom-com needs to bring it on the comedy front as well. Happiest Season is one of the first queer rom-coms to hit our screens (there’s also Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup and Hallmark’s The Christmas House that feature LGBTQ plotlines, all coincidentally in 2020), and it does a competent job, due in main part to the wonderful cast.
Kristen Stewart’s Abby is excited to meet her girlfriend Harper’s family for Christmas, there’s just one small problem: Harper hasn’t come out to her family yet. So because she’s not out, Abby has to pretend to be straight as well. Abby has also never properly celebrated Christmas since her parents passed away, which adds more salt to the wound when Harper makes her feel like she’s sightseeing, instead of possibly looking at this family as something she could be a part of.
Harper’s sister Sloane (Alison Brie) and her family are also back for the holidays, and the two have been rivals for mom and dad’s approval ever since they were young, constantly trying to one up the other just to impress their parents. Harper’s father Ted (Victor Garber) is also planning to run for mayor, so it is doubly important that Harper buckle down and pretend to be the perfect daughter he envisions she is. The sibling rivalry and family dynamic are the most authentic parts of the film, and those are the elements that come across more acutely than the romantic ones.
Stewart’s Abby and Mackenzie Davies’ Harper make a handsome couple, but the romantic chemistry between the two isn’t really fostered in the spaces of the film. There isn’t a strong sense of why they love each other, and we aren’t given much insight into their shared lives together. I do think that if the film had taken more time to develop the romantic aspects, it would have cemented itself as an instant holiday classic. Stewart’s Abby had more chemistry with Aubrey Plaza’s Riley than with Davies’ Harper, and I’m not gonna lie, I was low-key rooting for them to end up together.
What Stewart and Davies do a great job of is selling heartbreak, and I found myself tearing up at certain points because of their performances. I could empathize with Abby’s pain – to love someone so much and have them ignore you and be ashamed of the love you two share is just heart-wrenching stuff.
But Harper’s dilemma is also understandable, the desire to be what your parents and friends expect set against what your heart truly wants. Dan Levy’s John puts this across so poignantly to Abby – everyone’s coming out story is different, and just because it’s easy for some people, it doesn’t mean that this is the situation across the board. Levy is great as Abby’s best friend, and is there for her in a way that does not enable, but he does sympathize. It’s been a while since we have gotten good supporting characters like this in a rom-com, and he kind of reminded me of Rupert Everett’s George from My Best Friend’s Wedding, both gay and fabulously funny but in very different ways.
If I had to compare this film to any holiday rom-com, I would say it resembles The Family Stone most in terms of tone and direction. Great ensemble, good script and direction from director Clea DuVall (Mary Holland, who plays Jane, co-wrote the script) – definitely a fun and worthy addition to anyone’s Christmas romance movie list.
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Happiest Season has a great ensemble, compelling leads, and a holiday rom-com that will weave its way into our hearts. Your heart might just grow three sizes after you give this a watch.
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