Review: ‘Happiest Season’ spreads Christmas cheer

Still provided by Jojo Whilden and Hulu

By Erin Brady

When many people think of Christmas, one might think about the standard cheesy romantic comedies that have become synonymous with the holiday. Although these movies have slowly left theaters in favor of streaming services and the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel, they are still a major part of Christmas for many.

There is a very noticeable pattern shown in the vast majority of Christmas romantic comedies: they usually center on straight, white people. While there have been some small strides at diversity over the years, they have still been relegated to cable television. That is why Happiest Season, the Hulu-exclusive Christmas movie that centers around the trials and tribulations facing a lesbian couple during the holidays, is more important than many realize. 

The Clea DuVall-directed romantic comedy was originally slated to be the first original romantic comedy about the LGBTQ+ community to be distributed by a major Hollywood studio, as the film was made by Sony Pictures. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a significant damper on the entertainment industry, with very few movies being distributed in theaters. Even though it is another streaming-relegated Christmas romantic comedy, the fact that it was originally slated for theatrical release still makes it historical for LGBTQ+ art and film.

But what about the actual movie itself? The premise is probably one that many have heard of before, but with a twist; the Christmas-loving Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and the skeptic Abby (Kristen Stewart) find themselves spending the holiday with Harper’s white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant family, who are unaware that their daughter is a lesbian. It is not a particularly groundbreaking premise, but one that would not nearly be as interesting if centering around a straight couple. Throughout the movie, the pair finds themselves thrust into holiday antics, a mayoral campaign, and the uncovering of secrets that put their relationship to the ultimate test. 

From left: John (Dan Levy), Abby (Kristen Stewart), Harper (Mackenzie Davis)

While the basic plotline can be found in many other Christmas romantic comedies, Happiest Season feels different not only because of the lesbian focus but because of the fully-fleshed ensemble. Many characters, such as recent Emmy-sweeper Dan Levy’s turn as Abby’s publicist friend John, would usually be seen as stereotypical in other films. In Happiest Season, they are more than their baseline characteristics. They are actually fleshed out and developed in a natural way, actually making them feel like people instead of characters. 

Happiest Season is notable because it is reminiscent of a regular Christmas romantic comedy. Unfortunately, this also means that it adopts some of the pitfalls of these types of movies.

When many people watch a Hallmark movie, they usually find themselves disagreeing with or even disliking one part of the couple. Although she plays the character very well, Davis’ Harper makes some decisions that might make some viewers tired and annoyed. In some aspects, you feel slightly bad for Stewart’s Abby, who has her own conflicted feelings for Christmas that she is trying to put aside for her girlfriend. While these strained connections between the two lovers might stir discourse due to their disagreements and decisions, the question that the movie asks the audience is simple: if we are expected to watch these same types of complicated relationships between a man and a woman, why can’t we watch it with two women?

If you do not really like Christmas movies, chances are that Happiest Season will not change your mind. However, if you are looking for a sweet story that will grow your heart three sizes, check it out on Hulu.

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