American movies have a genre where white people gather together at Christmas and be awful to each other for an hour or so. Clea DuVall makes it gay.
By its premise alone, Happiest Season promises to be an important film not only because there are openly gay people involved in front and behind the camera. It’s a gay movie in a predominantly straight genre because, why not? everyone deserves to have some Christmas cheer.
Clea DuVall attracted a star-studded ensemble cast. Kristen Stewart and McKenzie Davis are adorable as a couple. Dan Levy, who seems to have been directly transplanted from Schitt’s Creek to this movie, is the affable voice of reason. Aubrey Plaza, who drops her usual act, has chemistry with Stewart.
Unfortunately, when Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (McKenzie Davis) finally arrive at Caldwell’s is when the movie falls apart. This goofy comedy that’s supposed to serve fluffy escapism becomes a Hallmark cartoon with remotely human characters.
Abby is stuck with the waspy Cladwell Clan for Christmas. The dad (Victor Garber) is running for mayor with ambiguous politics. The mom (Mary Steenburgen) is a passive-aggressive perfectionist. The eldest (Alison Brie) is a stuck-up former lawyer with creepy twins. The middle (Mary Holland) is the nerdy eager-to-please runt of the litter. Harper, the youngest, competes with her siblings for their parents’ approval.
They’re unpleasant to each other and inflict their misery on Abby. Harper increasingly ignores her girlfriend and picks up the life she left. Alone during the holidays, Abby strikes a friendship with Riley (Aubrey Plaza), Harper’s secret ex.
Meanwhile, the audience is subjected to little delight, unfunny irreverent humor (Abby being an “orphan” becomes a running gag), and a lackluster script. The plot marches to the conventional beats of a Christmas movie with a staple of yuletide setpieces – skating, family dinners, and a white elephant gift party.
Eventually, their issues are thrown out in open. Harper is unlikeable to the point of being irredeemable that it’s unclear why Abby is in love with her. But the script tells us so and wipes the slate clean in one night. Everyone accepts everybody.
To be fair, Happiest Season excels in being acutely aware of the different journeys that LGBTQ goes through when coming out to their relatives. Both John (Dan Levy) and Riley point out that Harper can be in love with Abby and still be afraid to show the world who she really is.
Overall though, Happiest Season is still dictated by the tropes of a heteronormative genre. Maybe someday, someone will tweet that Happiest Season walked so that another gay Christmas movie can run.
Gay people deserve their own contrived Christmas movie like straight people. For now, they have Happiest Season, a generic Christmas movie with a lesbian twist.
Happiest Season is a well-intentioned but phony Christmas comedy that's too cartoonish to make a lasting impression.