Every year the christmas season brings about the inevitable slew of Lifetime and Hallmark festive movies. Even Netflix has gotten in on the game in recent years. The film you can watch not only to bask in seasonal cheer but also point out the glaring production errors and horrific acting. However each year there is a holiday film looking to buck the trend, the Hollywood christmas romance. Last year we had Last Christmas, the soporific Emilia Clarke starring film that ripped its plot straight from a song and asked us to pretend not to notice. This year it’s the Clea Duvall directed film Happiest Season, a story about two women, Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who decide to spend Christmas with Harper’s family with the slight wrinkle that her family doesn’t know she is gay and Abby must keep up the pretence of being Harper’s roommate.
Written by Duvall and Mary Holland (who also plays Harper’s scene stealing sister Jane), Happiest Season, despite the title and the holiday setting, doesn’t seem to be interested in Christmas at all. The fact that its just another family holiday here, a chance for good company, the occasional bit of sibling rivalry and a few revelations makes this predictable but charming feature seem unusually fresh in a month overflowing with Christmas drivel. I may be writing this in the early moments of 2021 but at the time, stepping out of the Christmas festivities and acknowledging that it was just another day was pleasantly refreshing. Duvall here uses classic romantic comedy formula to acknowledge that the tried and tested tropes of days past still work for same sex couples and while its a smart point, the problem is, it’s still the same old formula. In fact Abby and Harper seem to be the only parts of Duvall’s film that don’t feel fully realised, stuck conforming to the standard rom-com predictability while the characters outside of it get to have all the fun. It’s a shame considering Stewart is great here, be it verbally sparring with best friend John (Dan Levy) or trying to find common ground with Harper’s family, pulling her back into the closet of plot constraints seems like a waste.
In fact, as a family drama with spatterings of well realised and authentic jokes, Happiest season excels with a excellent cast to back up a strong script but when shooting for romance and bouncing off the sides of a story unwilling to untether itself from expectations, Happiest Season doesn’t feel that happy at all. There is no denying it is a warm film, one infinitely better than the typical Christmas movie but it feels more normal than special and I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.