Review: 'Happiest Season' a wholesome queer holiday comedy our world needs right now
Courtesy of HULU
Representing a rare mainstream romantic comedy about lesbians, Clea DuVall’s “Happiest Season” is both groundbreaking and quintessential. Not often do you see a major studio backing films about the gay experience, but one that’s set around Christmas? You’d have to look up 2018’s “Lez Bombs'' to find any comparison and even that wasn’t seen by massive audiences. Greenlit shortly after the moderate success of 2018’s “Love, Simon,” DuVall’s seasonal comedy was slated for theatrical release, but pandemic’s have a way of shaking up calendars and Hulu guaranteed wide audiences would get to see the film. While it’s disheartening we won’t know how a queer holiday flick would have fared in theaters, the fact it was made and distburted in the first place is something worth celebrating.
DuVall’s charming and hilarious comedy should have no problem signaling audiences will flock to see a gay movie, and help other films of a similar nature secure financing. It also means “Happiest Season” can be judged for its wholesome message on love and acceptance and not by box office returns (although, based on the final product, Sony had a sleeper hit on their hands).
It’s set-up bares resemblance to “Lez Bombs” which sees girlfriends Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) heading into two different holiday seasons. For Harper, it’s about honoring family traditions, attending festive Christmas eve parties, and championing her father’s mayoral aspirations. For Abby - whose parents passed away ten years prior - it means lockdown mode: pet sitting and waiting for yuletide cheer to subside. This all changes on a romantic December evening when Harper invites Abby home for Christmas. A sweet gesture that hits a roadblock when it’s revealed Harper hasn’t come out to her parents, and in effort to survive the holidays with minimal scars, they must pretend to be friends.
This is a situation I can imagine is relatable to many in the gay community: dating someone struggling with their sexuality and hiding it from others, which can be mentally and physically daunting, doesn’t just happen in the movies. Writer and director Clea DuVall - an actress known for roles in “The Faculty” and “Girl Interrupted” - along with co-writer Mary Holland are wise to use it as a perfect metaphor for the holiday gay experience. We all understand the anxiety of watching our significant other meet parents for the first time, but “Happiest Season” transcends boundaries and helps audiences understand the struggle it is for the LGTBQ community to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Though “Happiest Season” is bold enough to tackle mature themes around inclusivity and compassion during the holidays, it’s also hilarious in a way most seasonal comedies aren’t. Filled with kooky caricatures and even stranger running gags, the jokes provide a steady stream of enjoyment. Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber are having a blast as Harper’s Waspy parents, who are on the cusp of securing a major donor for Dad’s campaign (one of many reasons Harper’s stayed in the closet). Meanwhile two sisters, one stoic and icy played by Allison Brie (who is terrific) and the other bubbly and borderline psychotic played with fierce, unapologetic commitment by Mary Holland elevate every scene.
In addition, Dan Levy, fresh of his Emmy for “Schitt’s Creek,” gets a welcome supporting role as the obligatory best friend who shows up to randomly offer advice and deliver hilarious zingers when you least expect it. And if that wasn’t enough, our lord and savior Aubrey Plaza shines as one of Harper’s old high school flings.
Stewart, who generally resists mainstream studio programmers (though roles in “Underwater” and “Charlie’s Angles” would seem to indicate otherwise) shows a warmer side missing from those other action pics and her comic timing is impeccable. But her effortless chemistry between Davis is what sells the picture, and that all these characters could have been generic, one dimensional archetypes speaks to the screenplay's authenticity. These are honest characters with plausible backstories, and despite “Happiest Season” existing within familiar narrative boundaries, it still manages to seem fresh while letting the world know lesbian themed holiday films are here to stay.
HAPPIEST SEASON debuts on Hulu Wednesday, November 25th