I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to Christmas movies, I have my set favourites and I very rarely stray from them. Having been less than impressed with last year’s big effort Last Christmas, I had pretty much resigned myself to tried and tested festive treats like Jingle All The Way and The Muppet Christmas Carol. HOWEVER, you send a gay Christmas film my way and you put Kristen Stewart front and centre, you can be damn sure that I’m going to be decking the halls.
Directed by the wonderful Clea DuVall, Happiest Season tells the story of Abby and Harper (Kristin Stewart and Mackenzie Dvis), a couple on the brink of engagement who decide to go to Harper’s family house for Christmas. The only problem? Harper has yet to tell her potentially unaccepting family that she is a lesbian. In typical romantic comedy fashion, this leads to a string of caper filled charades that, whilst being comically enjoyable for the audience, also begin to test the strength of the couple’s secret relationship.
I’m happy to report that on the whole, Happiest Seasons is a genuinely funny and enormously watchable film. I’ve seen so many festive romantic comedies over the years involving every kind of straight pairing, and I underestimated just how satisfying it would be to see something more representative of my own life. Representation, folks, who’d have thunk it!?
That’s not to say, however, that the film is absolutely perfect because I don’t think it is. In terms of humorous dialogue and a good snappy pace, Happiest Season does a great job, I laughed out loud many more times than I expected to. There are certainly elements of the ‘scared to come out’ narrative that are frustrating to watch play out, including some of Harper’s decisions over the course of the couple’s stay, but just because I personally didn’t vibe with them as a viewer it doesn’t make the story choices any less valid or authentic.
The film has all of the familiar aesthetic and music of a ‘traditional’ Christmas rom-com, with the pleasant exception of its queerness. I’m willing to forgive the few small flaws Happiest Season has in favour of its wider successes. When it is at its most charming, it’s irresistible. When it is at its most funny, it’s laugh out loud hilarious. Give or take a few dislikes regarding character motivations, I had an all round gay old time, in all of the possible ways!
On the whole, the cast are nothing short of a delight. Kristen Stewart is awesome as Abby, finding the comedy in a situation where her character has essentially been forced back into the closet by the woman she loves. As one expects, Stewart is also able to turn it on dramatically when the plot demands it, and the more emotional scenes work just as well as the lighter ones. There’s not arguing that she is the star of the show here, and clearly having a lot of fun along the way.
As Harper, Mackenzie Davis is good, if not quite at Stewart’s level. The tight rope the actress has to walk is a thin one, because to some viewers (myself included), Harper’s actions before the inevitable ‘happily ever after’ rom-com conclusion might tip her a little too close to the completely unlikable side of the fence. It’s a tough job, and it’s clearly deliberately done, but at times it’s frustrating to watch.
The film is enhanced by a number of really fun supporting performances, namely from Dan Levy as Abby’s best friend John, and Mary Holland as Jane, one of Harper’s quirkier, eccentric sisters. Aubrey Plaza makes a small but impactful contribution as Riley, a hometown ex-girlfriend of Harper’s. Strikingly, the chemistry that Stewart shares with Plaza feels much more electric than the chemistry that she shares with Davis, which for those who agree with me actually proved somewhat of a distraction from the main aims of the plot!
Overall, although I can identify a few things that I would have preferred to be done in a different way, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Happiest Season to anyone looking for a new addition to their Christmas movie rotation. A genuinely funny romantic comedy packed with great performances, just the kind of thing I’m looking to put me in the festive spirit whilst still catering to most of my personal preferences! Kristin Stewart has always been a fave, and she has only further cemented that here.