November 26, 2020

SCREEN | Kristen Stewart Celebrates the 'Happiest Season'

"There's nothing more erotic than concealing your authentic selves."
Kristen Stewart Mackenzie Davis Clea DuVall | Happiest Season
TriStar Pictures / Entertainment One
Actress turned filmmaker Clea DuVall brings a queer-friendly spin to the traditional Christmas romantic comedy in Happiest Season. Starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a lesbian couple visiting Harper's family for the holidays, there's an added twist where the latter springs on the former the last-minute detail of how she has yet to come out to her family. Abby is forced back into closet to pretend to be Harper's roommate during a Christmas visit home before the usual rom-com hijinks ensue.

DuVall's mostly feel-good holiday affair dives right into its family-friendly comedy troupes of coming home and disrupting longheld relationship dynamics. It wisely plays on Stewart's awkwardly endearing personality to mine humour from her lying badly to strangers about who she is. I laughed at every mention of the running joke referring to Abby as being Harper's "orphan friend". However, their chemistry as a couple is suspect at best as we meet them in supposed full-on lovey-dovey mode with little evidence to justify it beyond their tepid declarations. This is even more evidenced later by Stewart's palpably dynamic pairing with Aubrey Plaza as Harper's ex.

Happiest Season features a killer cast including the likes of Alison Brie, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen as Harper's sister and parents. Dan Levy is another fun highlight as Abby's archetypically sassy gay best friend. Its script co-written by comedian Mary Holland, who also co-stars as Davis' other (quirkier) sister, takes the usual "home for the holidays" approach with a few contemporary twists to update the well-worn formula.

Kristen Stewart Mackenzie Davis Alison Brie Burl Moseley Mary Holland Mary Steenburgen Victor Garber Clea DuVall | Happiest Season

Fun aside, the film suffers from the usual drawbacks of its rom-com genre. It's hard to invest in Abby and Harper's clearly problematic relationship where she constantly lies about how closeted she really is. Also, the film is very white apart from one token Black in-law character and a couple of devious mixed-race children used primarily as story devices. It becomes hard to ignore just how much of a bummer Harper is as a girlfriend and why Abby is so gaga over her despite the increasingly glaring flaws.

Happiest Season is an altogether pleasant ride with a winning cast and fun performances wrapped in the usual holiday cheer. It's just too bad DuVall did not take the opportunity to further subvert the problems of holiday romantic comedies. The film brings up a lot of unique takes but also works hard to gloss them over in the order to wrap up a happy ending in a nice bow and only slightly alter the perceptions of typical extended families or what it means to join one.

Happiest Season is available to stream on various digital platforms and through video on demand in Canada.

More | YVArcade / AV Club / Indiewire

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