Did anyone have Marcie Ross writing and directing a holiday rom-com starring Bella Swan on their 2020 Bingo card?
In an tsunami of Christmas and holiday movies, Hulu’s Happiest Season is getting a lot of attention because it features a lesbian couple in a situation that’s typical in any romantic movie. Usually, the boyfriend introduces the girlfriend to his family for Christmas (or the other way around) and hi-jinks occur. This time, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a Pittsburgh reporter, decides to take her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) to meet her family at her small home town. Right from the start (including the opening credits), they’re a cute couple.
Of course, hi-jinks occur here, too. Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s gay because she’s certain they’d never accept it. However, it turns out there are other reasons.
Not only that, Abby plans to propose to Harper.
The movie is directed and co-written by Clea DuVall, who’s familiar to Buffy fans as Marcie, who’s so ignored she turns invisible and gets very angry. Clea’s been very visible in many roles from But I’m A Cheerleader to Argo.
This is her second time as director, and she uses it to present a lesson about acceptance and love during the holidays.
Harper’s with her sisters Sloane (Allison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland, who also wrote the script). They look close, but Harper and Sloane have been trying to be the favorite to their mom Tipper (Mary Steenburgen). She’s not worried about that because sisters do that. The Dad, Ted (Victor Garber) is hoping to be mayor with the help of a donor (Ana Gasteyer)…and a holiday party may seal the deal.
Also, Sloane is a former lawyer who now makes gift baskets (and Mom is kind of disappointed, and maybe Sloane is too). The kids are also a bit spooky, mainly they’re treated more like trophies.
Jane is mostly ignored but she’s happy with herself because she doesn’t have pressure on her. She still would like to be noticed, even for a fantasy book she’s writing.
The family is quite clueless about Harper for much of the film. Mom even invited Harper’s ex boyfriend Connor for dinner, hoping for a holiday wedding. Later, a woman named Riley (Aubrey Plaza) shows up. She’s Harper’s former girlfriend, who says their relationship ended badly.
There’s also John (Dan Levy) who thinks that pretending to be something else will be a disaster. He’s still amused by the family when he poses as another ex-boyfriend.
Abby is looked at with contempt by Sloane and her kids (they do something cruel to her), and most of the townies. She still finds ways to be with Harper behind her family’s back. Also, Ted’s vow to protect the town from “depravity” as Mayor gives a hint Harper’s promise to tell the truth may not happen. However, the town has a drag bar. What’s his position on that?
It’s clear, though, Harper’s too busy trying to be the “good straight daughter” than consider Abby’s feelings. It proves her belief the holidays bring out the worst in people, like maybe Riley’s trying to take Abby.
Actually, it’s still typical holiday rom-com.
Then comes the moment of truth at the family’s Christmas party. Harper is still too scared to come out (“I’m not hiding you. I’m hiding me”). She still wants Abby, though, and someone finds out too soon.
That leads to a confession, a lie that’s even worse, and a lot of anger.
Of course there is reconciliation, but everyone has to earn it. Two really good speeches towards the end show that, followed by an epiphany.
There’s also a nice scene at a gas station with an appropriate name.
Again, Stewart and Davis make a cute couple, while Davis shows how much pressure Harper has been trying to be ideal rather than herself. Brie, meanwhile, plays the “mean girl” sister a bit too well, but she’s trying to be more ideal than her sisters.
Stewart is also good as Abby tries to understand Harper’s situation, but admits she can only take so far. Plaza adds her typical deadpan attitude, as well as being a possible romantic rival.
Steenburgen plats Tipper as someone who tries a little too hard to be the ideal wife/hostess. She’s got the same pressures as her daughters, but realizes what is really important.
Happiest Season is actually much better than other holiday movies seen elsewhere. The writing is sharp, the story is amusing but also adds enough drama to keep things interesting. It’ll be best known as the first holiday movie involving a lesbian couple, but the structure and complications are still traditional holiday TV. It’ll run during the holidays at hulu.com.