Here is the thing, writing something objective for this was always going to be hard. I don’t know how many times I have said that I wanted LGBTQ+ films to be more than just dramatic and heavy films. Yes, we have had a few but they have been so far in between that it felt like they were just not there. The truth is I have watched Happiest Season four times since receiving my screener. The first time I sat down to watch it, it was an out of body experience, not believe that we were finally getting something like this. And every time, I fall a little bit more in love with it. Happiest Season is everything I wanted it to be, and everything it promised to be. It’s the classic Christmas film that we are so used to watch, except this time it’s gay. And sure, it’s another coming out story, a story that we have seen done so many times before, but it was very clear watching this film that a queer person wrote and directed this film. Clea Duvall created a feature that gave us what we wanted and more, she directed a film that yes followed tropes that we know but adapted them to us and our situation. It was a breath of fresh air and made me believe that maybe, just maybe we will get those queer cheesy Christmas movies every year.
Christmas films follow patterns that we all know but there’s something fresh about what Clea Duvall did with this. I have been following her career since I first watched But I’m a Cheerleader and was one of the few who truly enjoyed her directorial debut The Intervention, while it wasn’t perfect it showed promised for Duvall as a director and with Happiest Season you can tell how much she cared and put into this. While reading about this film, it became clear that this was the film she always wanted to make. It felt like a love letter, a true story, and most important, it felt real. There’s a speech towards the end of the film that Dan Levy’s character John give to Kristen Stewart’s Abby that felt so raw and real. But more importantly, I couldn’t help but love that not only a queer woman had written and directed this but also that two queer actors were in this scene. And that is my biggest thing about this film, the thing that I loved so much, is the number of queer people that occupied the screen. Dan Levy, Kristen Stewart, Victor Garber and Aubrey Plaza all in one movie is a testament to the filmmaker to make sure to include queer people in a queer space. Mackenzie Davis has talked about how she wanted to make sure she wasn’t occupying space that should be for queer people and to me that is why she is good for this role because she understands the importance of such a film for us, it’s something we need more and I am glad that we are finally getting there.
If you know me, you know my love for Kristen Stewart. I don’t want to hear about how you think she can’t act just because of Twilight. Kristen Stewart since leaving the Twilight Saga has become one of the most interesting actors working in independent film. Kristen Stewart is still the only American actress to win a César Award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for acting. She crafter a young and interesting career since distancing herself from big-budget films and became a better actress for it. But to me, where Stewart found a way to shine in her last few films was with comedy. She already proved her comedic timing with 2019’s Charlie’s Angel but with this one, she truly gets to showcase how good she can be in a comedic role. Because she plays the straight-men in this comedy, she mostly reacts but oh is she wonderful. Kristen Stewart feels like she is so comfortable with this role and it shows, maybe because it is her first openly queer role, but there’s something about how effortless she makes this feel, she navigates the awkwardness of the role and situations with ease and can create drama but also comedy without really trying. A lot of people have said over and over again how Kristen Stewart had no facial expression, well that is just a plain lie because some of her expressions in this had me in tears. I hope this is just a continuation of Stewart working in comedy because I believe she has found something special in her comedic timing.
Predictable can be a bad thing at times but Happiest Season doesn’t suffer from it. Sure, I knew that Abby and Harper would get their happy ending (even tho I did have a second where I wished for something else), I knew where the story was going at all times but that didn’t matter because I enjoyed the crap out of it. Not one member of the cast wasn’t strong in this, but the trio of Allison Brie, Mary Holland and Mackenzie Davis is brilliant with Holland stealing every single scene she was in. Aubrey Plaza continues to prove that she needs to be in everything and can someone just give her her own romantic comedy where she is the lead because she is so wonderful in this. (And her outfits in this film were everything, I will need her wardrobe like today.) This film knows how to use its cast, putting them in situations where they shine, they all play off each other so well and there wasn’t one weak spot. It’s an ensemble cast that works so well together.
Happiest Season doesn’t change the game but why would it need to? It’s fun, cheesy and exactly what it needs to be. It takes space in a world where we often never exist, it creates stories that we never have seen for each other on-screen. Clea Duvall said to have taken inspiration from her own story and it’s interesting because that makes this film feel even more real. This story is something we have seen before, the coming out story is overdone in queer films but in this case, I am okay with it because it’s done with care. Happiest Season made me happy and created this feeling that I rarely get when I watch queer films and that is more than enough for me.