Someone literally accused it of being the hap-happiest season of all, but that’s not always the case, is it? Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year specifically for Andy Williams to have something original to sing on the holiday episodes of his show. The song boasts hosting parties, spontaneous visits from friends, universal social gaiety, spending time with loved ones, sledding for children, and roasting marshmallows as prime causation of holiday happiness, but not only do these things not guarantee joy, rarely does a Christmas song mention the other side of Christmas reality. The dry turkey, the overspending, the cranky kids, the ubiquitous pine needles, the dangerous driving conditions, the kids table, the inevitable disappointment. While the happiest seasons are happy in the way described by Pola and Wyle, the worst seasons are distinctly terrible in their own ways. Happiest Season tells us about Abby’s.
Abby (Kristen Stewart) isn’t that into Christmas, but girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is, so Abby makes the effort, pawning off her holiday pet-sitting duties to pal John (Daniel Levy), and spontaneously joining Harper on her trip home for the holidays. Abby’s never met Harper’s family, so this is a pretty big deal. Big enough that Abby plans to propose to Harper over Christmas dinner since the season means so much to her, making it the first of many happy holidays together. Except.
Except it turns out that Harper isn’t out to her family, and she’s been lying to Abby about it. Frantically confessed at the last possible moment, she implores Abby to keep her secret, and to lie about her own sexuality as well, because dad Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor in Homophobe, USA, and we wouldn’t want to hurt his campaign. Actually, it seems Harper’s sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland) also govern their lives in order to best impress their parents. Ted and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) make no bones about expecting perfection, playing favourites, and rewarding success with affection. When Harper arrives, mom Tipper literally says “You get more and more beautiful every time I see you. Did you bring concealer?” And Harper’s the favourite! It’s not a great situation to be walking into, but Abby reluctantly agrees with the fateful line “It’s 5 days – how bad can it be?”
You’ll have to tune in to Hulu on November 25, 2020 to find out just how bad it can be – and then be thrilled, surprised and titillated when it gets even worse.
Happiest Season is a comedy but as a rare LGBTQ holiday romance, it also tells a stark reality: that Christmas (and other obligatory family time) can be really hard on queer people whose families aren’t accepting. Kristen Stewart literally gets shoved back into a closet in this movie, which isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence. Gay members of the family may be forced to suppress foundational facets of themselves, to deny lovers and celebrate separately from partners. And that’s the “lucky” ones who haven’t been outright rejected and ostracized. It isn’t a happy time for everyone, and it gets increasingly unhappy for Abby.
John is the unsung hero of Happiest Season, the friend Abby can call when things get emotionally turbulent, the friend who will always champion her happiness, the friend who will show up for her when things get tough. Daniel Levy, recently named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive (and how!), is great in this, as he’s great in everything. But truly, this is an ensemble comedy and it succeeds on the backs of many fine performances. Mary Steenburgen plays Icy Snob to utter perfection, Mary Holland is lovably awkward and hopelessly clueless, Aubrey Plaza has a small but sweet part – even your favourite drag queens, Ben DeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon have a campy cameo. But most of all: Kristen Stewart. I do believe even Stewart’s harshest critics (and they are harsh) would have to admit she’s natural and lovely and relaxed in this role, but she’s also able to communicate with subtle signals that she’s going through more than she says. As a supportive girlfriend, she understands this is difficult for Harper, but as a woman with self-respect, she’s uncomfortable quashing her authentic self. While Harper and her competitive sisters are clashing in the kitchen, and at the mall, and right into the Christmas tree, Abby’s conflict is internal. And Harper’s dilemma might feel painfully familiar to some – whether to choose Abby, or her family – and the accompanying fear that in trying to have both she might lose both.
Director Clea DuVall wrote the script along with Mary Holland but they aren’t delivering some gay powder puff Hallmark movie. They haven’t shied away from the tough truths of queer Christmas, but they do manage to pull it all together into something that is as entertaining as it is festive.