After the longest year in living memory, it’s finally – for some – the festive period once again. To celebrate the run-up to the birthday of Mr Jesus H Christ, I’ll be writing about a seasonally appropriate film a day; it may be a review of a new release, revisiting a beloved Christmas film, or taking in a first watch of an established Yuletide cinematic fixture.
What better way to get started, than with the much-hyped festive rom-com Happiest Season? Check out Day 1 after the jump.
It may go without saying, but this year, people need a little piece of reliable feel-good fare to get their Christmas cheer kickstarted. Thank goodness then for Clea DuVall and her latest directorial effort Happiest Season: a charming Christmas decoration-laden romantic comedy which contains a surprisingly heartfelt lesbian love story at its centre.
The couple at the centre of Happiest Season‘s proceedings are Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). Harper, in a moment of holiday-induced spontaneity, decides to invite Abby to join her for Christmas at the family home. The only thing is, Harper hasn’t yet come out to her parents, and she may not have been entirely honest about this to Abby prior to the trip up.
Inevitably, from the moment that they arrive at Harper’s parents’ house, the couple’s prospects for a smooth few days are sent through the floor. Harper’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) has a very strong aversion to anything disrupting her plans for a perfect Christmas, and her father (Victor Garber) is running for political office, which puts a great deal of perceived pressure on Harper and her plan to come out, and more than a little strain on the relationship between her and Abby.
It’s a particularly heavy conflict for a Christmassy rom-com, and for the most part the film eschews big laughs for an often painful drama, as Abby especially begins to doubt whether this relationship is destined to go the distance. Many of the film’s more broadly comedic moments come thanks to Harper’s eccentric sister Jane (Mary Holland, who also co-wrote the film), whose unbridled, innocent excitement at the sheer idea of Christmas coming, is infectiously joyous.
The outstanding performance though is Dan Levy, as Abby’s best friend John. Levy is a natural comedic talent, as he’s already proven across six series of Schitt’s Creek, and although his presence in the film is felt mostly towards its final act, Levy gets – and makes the most of – Happiest Season‘s funniest and most tender scenes. He gets the speech by which the film will arguably be remembered most fondly over the coming years; it’s a beautifully written and even better performed moment which sums up one of the defining moments in any LGBTQ+ person’s life.
Levy being the film’s strongest asset is certainly saying something, especially when looking at the rest of the cast list on paper: along with the two formidable leads, Happiest Season also boasts some of the greatest American comic acting talent around in Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza who star in key roles.
There are already debates raging online about the dynamic of the relationship between Abby and Harper, and it’s a great shame that the film’s more harsh critics have railroaded the discussion around Happiest Season into the ongoing discourse. Clea DuVall’s sweet romantic-comedy deserves better than this, thankfully hers is a thoroughly charming little confection which is sure to last the test of time as a staple of festive film marathons for years to come.
Happiest Season is free on Amazon Prime now in the UK, or on Hulu if you’re more inclined to be American. Don’t worry, we won’t hold the latter against you here.