Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are head over heels and decide to spend the holidays together. As Abby is an orphan, they stay with Harper's family for Christmas. But it soon emerges that Harper hasn't come out to them yet. As keeping their relationship a secret proves increasingly tricky, Abby feels hurt by Harper's dishonesty - especially when she's been thinking of popping the question...
'Happiest Season' is the LGBTQ Christmas movie we've been waiting for. But as well as that, it's well-written and packed with endearing characters, with stirring performances. Christmas movies sometimes get a free pass on their feel-good factor and in this writer's opinion, there can be such a thing as too many (Netflix output this year has been extravagant, with one or two features on the subject matter coming a week, starting from the end of October). So when a quality festive flick like this comes around, it deserves to be celebrated.
In the opening, we have Harper portrayed as the Christmas enthusiast and Abby as the Christmas cynic, setting up what seems to be a typical trope. The same too can be said of Harper's parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen) who are overly enthusiastic, though not forcibly weird or creepy. In fairness to 'Happiest Season', it never relies on hamminess or slapstick. Its tendency towards realism - with drama emerging from the competitive or cooperative relationships between its characters - is really refreshing. It never feels like actress-turned-writer-director Clea DuVall is relying on the conventions of Christmas movies to emote us. She wants to make a genuine family drama meets romantic comedy, and it works.
A lot of the film is carried off thanks to the terrific ensemble cast. The feature is packed with funny, awkward moments with all involved getting a chance to shine. Mary Holland is great as the awkward, oddball sister, in a performance that never feels overdone; 'Glow's Alison Brie is in her element as the bad-humoured, judgmental, over-competitive sister. Having played the nicest mom in the likes of 'Elf' and 'Step Brothers', it's fun to see Mary Steenburgen play the perfectionist, somewhat bitchy mother; and Audrey Plaza, in spite not being her madcap, quirky typical strain of character, is still a delight.
Daniel Levy is fantastic (heck, even if he is essentially playing the same character as in 'Schitt's Creek'). As well as getting some big laughs, he relates an emotional coming out story to Abby. Speaking of, Kristen Stewart is a natural, subtly portraying her character's pain and devotion, hopelessly enamoured as she is. If her pretty much carrying that 'Charlie's Angels' remake on her own didn't convince you of her talent, this has to. Davis is far less sympathetic, but then that's kind of the point. Aside from her dishonesty, she pushes her partner aside to catch up with exes and old friends. It all collapses into the family feud we've been waiting for, and it's a glorious thing to behold.
'Happiest Season' is on Hulu in the US now. But there are options for us to get it on this side of the pond too. It is well worth seeking out this Christmas, being the funny, touching, accomplished production that it is. It's the perfect 2020 Christmas movie too and could very well end up becoming an annual classic.
You can rent or buy 'Happiest Season' on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and other platforms.