This is a movie that is occasionally brilliant, but it adheres too closely to holiday rom com feel good formula to really transcend the genre in the way that it clearly wants to.
Happiest Season is a holiday movie that follows Abby and Harper played by Kirsten Stewart and Mackenzie Davis respectively. They are two women head over heels for each other. Harper invites Abby to her family’s home for Christmas. Abby reluctantly accepts, but decides to go hoping to propose to Harper on Christmas. On the drive, Harper breaks down and reveals that she’s been lying to Abby. Harper lied about coming out to her parents. They think she’s straight and that Abby is Harper’s straight roommate. Abby is now faced with the prospect of playing straight for Harper’s conservative parents for an entire week.
Harper’s parents are played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber. They’re wonderful performers playing the absolute worst people. They are image obsessed. He’s running for mayor of their town and would do anything to avoid a scandal. Her main goal seems to be getting the perfect family Christmas photo and will crush anyone’s feelings to get it. They are passive aggressive to the extreme. They are horrible people.
While home, Abby sees a new side of Harper a violently competitive side. Harper and her sister Sloane are brutal with one another. Sloane is played by Alison Brie who seems to be playing a more sinister and extreme version of the perfect sister trope. These two continually lock into terminator mode where they get very serious and try to destroy the other in some trivial contest. Harper’s other sister is Jane, and she’s the best. She’s played by Mary Holland. She is all quirks and oddities. She keeps trying to explain her overly complicated fantasy novel to anyone who will listen. She never feels like she’s quirky for the sake of being quirky though. Holland keeps her firmly rooted in reality. She is a person who broke free from some horrible parents and embraced all the things that make her unique. She is such fun whenever she’s on screen.
There are two movies at work here, there is a very real and important story about coming out. Harper comes from a home where love was not guaranteed. She and her sisters had to fight for their parents affection. Harper has spent her entire life afraid of losing that love if she told them the truth about herself. Caught up in that is Abby, how much is she willing to sacrifice and go along with before it becomes too much and she loses herself?
The second movie is a heart warming holiday comedy in which trips ice skating go wrong, and people get wrongfully accused of shoplifting and a big reveal ends up in a silly fight resulting in a Christmas tree getting knocked over. But come Christmas morning, all will be forgiven, old resentments will die, new families will be made and the power of love with triumph.
The problem is these two elements do not convincingly converge. Harper’s parents are the absolute worst. But overnight they transform into completely different people so that the movie can have it’s heartwarming finale. There’s no transition. They simply change everything about themselves and their personalities because of one scene. They spent a lifetime denying their children affection if they didn’t tow the line, then one scene later they are offering unconditional love to anyone in their vicinity? I don’t buy it. Harper, spends most of the movie being the absolute worst. She ignores her girlfriend. She lies to everyone. She forces her girlfriend to lie for her. She then ignores her and rejects her. She denounces her in front of her family, then because of one rom com speech in a parking lot, all is forgiven and everyone is happy? I don’t buy it. In order to have their rom com finish the movie smoothes out all the prickly edges and sharp corners that made it interesting in the first place.
Finally, Daniel Levy is in this movie. He gets his own paragraph. He is the co-creator of Schitt’s Creek. He is phenomenal. I’d watch him do anything. He is hilarious. His play’s Abby’s friend who is foolishly volunteers to watch several people’s pets while they are out of town. He offers iconic comedy relief and some incredible words of wisdom. He and Abby share a scene late in the film that is completely brilliant and beautiful. He and Jane should have their own movie. These two characters were perfect. They are awesome. Brilliant performers doing great work.
The movie has moments of greatness, but it falls short in my eyes. I admit this movie is not made for me. It may have a different affect for you. It’s a half a cup of tea for me. There are worse holiday movies you could be watching. It is currently streaming on Hulu. B