In a time where holidays are getting canceled, and movie theaters are still closed, Happiest Season is premiering on Hulu as part of TriStar Pictures selling the rights to the streamer, providing those who can’t go home for the holidays that similar feeling that is mostly what you expect, and a ton you don’t. Clea DuVall directs this film with the confidence of a seasoned director, getting the most of her cast that is an instant classic.
The main twist that drives Happiest Season is that it reinvents the sub-genre of home for the holiday movies by making the family much more relatable with these small flaws that bring them closer to something that represents the modern family dynamics rather than the stereotypical dysfunctional family from films like Christmas Vacation. That, and the main couple, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristin Stewart), is a couple that we get the impression have been living together for quite some time (at one point, Harper mentions “last summer”). There’s just one problem. Harper isn’t out to her family yet.
The script by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland navigates the waters of hiding your identity by providing reason after reason for Harper to remain in the closet, providing those unfamiliar with the LGBT+ experience some much-needed context for why she makes these decisions through how she interacts with her family and how that informs her relationship with Abby.
Another of the film’s biggest strengths is its cast. In addition to co-stars Kristen Stewart & Mackenzie Davis, her family is played by Alison Brie as her sister Sloane, co-writer Mary Holland as Jane, Victor Garber as her father, and Mary Steenburgen as Harper’s mother. I don’t think there’s a miss on this list. The family plays naturally off of each other and delights the viewer every time they appear onscreen. The best moments with the family are probably whenever Jane (Holland) shows up. She has a small role in the film, but everything about her arc still sticks even a full week after watching the movie. I won’t spoil what the arc is, but as a self-proclaimed “weirdo,” it meant a lot to me to have a character in a major feature film that I could identify with on a deeply emotional level. I’ve said things like “I know! I didn’t listen to you!” in response to my more quicky personality ticks, ranted about nerdy things, and have frequently been used as tech support. If Mary Holland is reading this, thank you for making room in an already stuffed holiday movie for a weirdo like me.
There is also an integral part of Happiest Season portrayed by Dan Levy, who plays Abby’s best friend, John. Unfourtanely, his role is relegated to quick phone calls that expands to much more of a co-starring role. If Harper is the almost antagonist of the film, John is the protagonist, especially once his role expands. Dodging spoilers, Levy brings much of his personal experience as an openly gay man to John, often providing a center for Abby and even further insight into how Harper must be feeling keeping this enormous secret from her family for as long as she has.
Stewart’s acting is also to be commended here. DuVall and Holland give her the massive task of having to just stuff down her feelings for this person she’s spent the past year or so building her idea of a perfect relationship with. What Stewart brings her is a very vocal and physical performance. Sometimes, she fights with Harper with her words, and other times, she fights her with her body language. That may give the impression that her performance is aggressive, but that’s not the case. Abby is very meek here, not wanting to step on any toes if she doesn’t have to.
If you’re up for a movie about chosen family, a Christmas movie, or a romantic comedy, Happiest Season has what you’re looking for in spades. The film also features a bangin’ soundtrack featuring artists like LP, Teagan and Sara, Carlie Hanson, kennedi, Brandy Clark, Sia, and more.
Happiest Season is available to stream to Hulu subscribers.