The Christmas movie is a hallmark of Western Hollywood cinema. Netflix has a whole universe of these, by the way, if you find you like them. The Christmas movie has to fulfil certain criteria – it is, first of all, set around Christmas time, in a cultural setting that does not ignore that it is Christmas time. Secondly, the plot is about the non-religious themes of the festival. Some Christmas movies do specifically show and espouse a faith in God, but the plot revolves around the family, the togetherness of family. The giving of gifts, and the giving of love.
The Christmas movie is also happy, and usually fun. You don’t walk into a theatre for a Christmas movie expecting Oscar-bait cinema. You expect family, friends, community, and hopefully something you can watch with your own family and friends without getting into a fight.
Happiest Season is a Christmas movie with queer women. It is not meant to be a deeply nuanced political screed – it is a movie about two queer women, and their families. Don’t ask for more than this, and you will be rewarded with a funny, moving and warm romance that doesn’t feel too easy.
Harper (Mackenzie Davis, my new crush) and Abby (Kristen Stewart, whom I have loved ever since I saw her outside of Twilight) are in love. After a cute evening on a Christmas tour in Pittsburgh (I do not know why they have Christmas tours in Pittsburgh; just accept this weird fact and move on. The movie starts on Candycane Lane. I am not joking) Harper invites Abby to her home, where she is meeting her parents and family for Christmas. Abby is delighted – she plans to propose to Harper on Christmas morning, having met the family and earned their approval.
But there’s a slight hitch – Harper hasn’t come out to her parents. She had pretended to Abby that she did – but she didn’t. Harper asks Abby to pretend to be her straight roommate, coming with Harper because she has nothing else to do for Christmas.
The movie contrasts two kinds of love throughout the nearly two hours of runtime – the love that gives, and forgives, and the love that takes, and criticises. Abby (who has the best casual lesbian vibe, a la Stewart) watches Harper’s parents criticise, condescend, and play favourites amongst their three daughters, Harper, Jane and Sloane. Jane is – frankly – the best character in the film, and her energy is weird and nerdy and geeky and freaky. She is wonderful, and her parents don’t recognise it or show it. Sloane (played to type-A perfection by Alison Brie) used to be a lawyer, and now sells something or the other that is approved of by Goop. (No comment.)
Stressed by being forced back into the closet, Abby relies on her best friend back in Pittsburgh (Daniel Levy, who is basically the textbook wonderful queer best friend, more woke than you, and supportive) but also on Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley (Aubrey Plaza being a normal human for a change). *Happiest Season* contrasts the pain of being in the closet – of being trapped in a vision someone else has of you – and the pain of being unacknowledged by your lover, the twinned lonelinesses the heterosexual world imposes on us.
This web of lies and attempted “perfection” cannot last. It unravels in a brutal confrontation, and we see also what can happen when even unconditional love says, Enough.
It’s a Christmas movie, and I think the direction struggles to balance the comedy, romance and the difficulty of being with your blood family. I wish I had reviewed this last month to be seasonal. Walk in with no high expectations and two hours will fly by – watch out for the fantastic cameo by Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme, who elevated a small and otherwise unimportant scene just by showing up and being fabulous. This is a movie to be enjoyed, not picked apart for quality or realism. The heart shines through.