Published Nov 25, 2020With Happiest Season, Clea DuVall has gifted us what just might be the definitive modern Christmas rom-com (step aside, Love Actually and The Holiday). A movie that takes us back to the soul of first-gen Christmas comedies, Happiest Season is a heartwarming tale that will fit comfortably in every family's must-watch Christmas Eve movies — whatever your family looks like — and ought to become an instant classic.
Written by Mary Holland and Clea DuVall, and directed by DuVall as well, the film stars Kristen Stewart as Abby. Now 29 years old, she loved Christmases with her parents until they died a decade ago, so now she understandably dislikes the holidays. Mackenzie Davis is Abby's girlfriend Harper, who invites Abby over to her family's for the big day. Abby accepts the invitation and plans on proposing to Harper on Christmas Day, after getting Harper's dad Ted's (Victor Garber) blessing. It's set to be the perfect Christmas until Harper tells Abby that she's not out to her parents; this complication is further complicated by the fact that Ted is trying to become mayor, that Harper's mom Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is trying curate the most wholesome family image, and the appearance of Harper's exes. Alison Brie and Holland co-star as Harper's sisters Sloane and Jane, respectively, Aubrey Plaza is Harper's first girlfriend and Dan Levy turns the trope of gay best friend on its head with his portrayal of Abby's friend John.
Stewart's comedic genius is show-stopping in this movie — she is a great physical comedian, à la Katharine Hepburn, and her timing is delightful. Davis is amazing as the you-can-tell-she-was-super-popular-in-high-school Harper. Levy is hilarious — landing at a middle ground between Alexis Rose and David Rose. But superb acting is to be expected from this star-studded cast.
But as great as the acting is, this movie is really all about plot. It's not a Christmas story that's been done to death — a lesser film might have pontificated about the importance of family and togetherness. Rather, Happiest Season is undergirded by a shadowy realism that Ernst Lubitsch hinted at in 1940's gem The Shop Around the Corner, and that Frank Capra made classic with the post-war Goliath It's a Wonderful Life.
DuVall and Holland don't do this lesbian love story an injustice in the slightest — every character being full and having a storied life. Harper is shown to be terrified of ruining the picture of a perfect family that Ted has been manicuring for years. Harper's past — her fear of coming out to her friends and family, to the detriment of her relationships — is told through Riley, fleshing Harper out in a beautiful way, making her complex and sympathetic. Harper is the youngest child and, after her sisters' various failures in Ted's eyes, all the weight of their family legacy is placed on her.
Over the length of this movie, punctuated as it is by zany, Christmassy antics, DuVall shows us what it's like to be in love and to have your heart broken. The loneliness of a possibly impending break-up is depicted deftly as Abby stares at her phone — her texts to Harper piled on top of each other, a string not broken by Harper's silence. Through Abby's and Harper's tears, each one of them crying in separate rooms, we see the familiar loneliness of being sad and not having the person you love to touch — but more importantly, the loneliness of not having the comfort of your family when you've had your heart broken. The chemistry between Stewart and Davis is palpable; they kiss so often, they touch and hold hands, and have an electrifying physical chemistry. But each actor on her own is delightful as well, delivering superb performances.
There is a lot that goes on in this movie, but none of it is out of place. And just as Jimmy Stewart made us laugh even as he cried in It's a Wonderful Life, Kristen Stewart, Steenburgen and Levy do the same. Because at the end of the day, this is a Christmas romantic comedy. And though Happiest Season will make you weep due to its genuine weightiness, it will also live up to its name by spreading happiness and cheer. (eOne)