Last Updated on September 13, 2021 by admin
Any seasoned individual who has waded their way through the fantasies of Santa Claus and Holiday idealism would be quite hard-pressed to name the holidays the Happiest Season. Evidenced by countless familial tensions, spikes in domestic violence, and the almost unbearable societal pressures to have fun throughout the bitter cold of winter. Because of all this, many will miss the irony within Happiest Season’s title. That is until they actually experience the film which finds itself wallowing in a largely depressing tale of complicated unrequited love in the face of familial pressures.
While Kristin Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, and Daniel Levy all provide compelling performances, the film’s script, direction, and lack of stylistic flair will likely see the film thrown atop the pile of Holiday-themed flicks. But this is a shame, given the topic of coming-out about one’s sexuality amid the family-oriented holiday season certainly shows great promise, at least on paper.
As the film’s intro sequence rolled I felt like I was being set up for two things: firstly, a cheesy rom-com romp that leans heavily on the latter syllable, and secondly leaving my seat. That is, because the opening credits appeared to run like the 90s or 2000s end-credits montage showing all the highlights of the film and, essentially, revealing the plot of the entire following 100 minutes. I’m sure we can all agree that this is not the ideal way of beginning any narrative.
In all seriousness, though, what I was greeted by was a narrative of loneliness, familial repression, and depression which provided a wealth of half-baked futile quips which attempted to lighten the mood.
This downer of a narrative is quite simple. Our protagonist Abby (Kristin Stewart) is deeply in love with her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis). This year, Harper has decided to invite Abby to her family’s home for Christmas and, unbeknownst to Harper, Abby hopes to use this as a moment to pop the big question. Yet, of course, there’s a catch—that Harper’s parents are unaware that she is gay. This results in a wealth of familial situations where Harper pushes Abby to one side, continually refusing to deliver the truth to her parents even when the perfect opportunity arises.
The film’s cold, disheartening core comes from the fact that we are solidly positioned with Abby throughout this narrative. Through this framing, we wade through most scenes with a droopy face as Abby is continually ignored, demeaned, and forgotten by the whole family—Harper included.
There are a variety of gags that attempt to springboard this mood back towards the positive. These range from the smile-worthy opening gag of Abby slipping off a roof to peep in on a couple having a Christmas-themed sexual encounter, to the eye-rolling recurrent mention of Abby being a supposed orphan. However, for me, all of these light, often empty gags failed to draw me back from Kristin Stewart’s evocative portrayal of rejection and sadness.
In other words, for me, it simply failed as a comedy which resulted in the bleak, sad moments of rejection hitting twice as hard.
“We’ve been so worried about seeming perfect”
The film’s narrative, then, became a crutch for the entire project to keep wandering forwards. Fortunately, the central cast kept this together bringing multi-dimensional performances to characters that would have otherwise fallen flat. Sadly, the supporting cast was not as strong performing individuals who rarely strayed from the first dimension.
That said, this isn’t necessarily the fault of the actors but of the characters themselves who resembled box-cut stereotypes of the uptight mother, career-seeking father, the dim-witted one, and stern, heartless one. These stereotypes were incredibly on the nose. This may have paid off if their characteristic gags had built on the rich comedic ground of stereotype, but unfortunately, they did no such thing.
To conclude the discussion of the narrative, it seems only right to talk about its conclusion which, again, was sadly fell back into common Christmas idealism instead of building on the rich sadness Kristin’s performance had otherwise cultivated. This undoubtedly will let some audience, along with those providing the money, to sit back with a smile, exclaiming how the holiday season always brings people together. However, spectators looking for even a slither of realism will see straight through the inconceivably abrupt switch the family unit goes through in the film’s closing moments.
The central lesbian relationship was compelling and believable, propped up by two strong performances. However, I couldn’t help but feel it was also somewhat problematic in its portrayal. From the very opening of the film, the only love we see between the couple is physical and sexual. This ranges from passionate kissing beneath streetlights to scantily clad undercover missions to each other’s bedrooms in the family home.
Such a foregrounding of lesbian physical sexuality, instead of a more well-rounded relationship, is inherently problematic in the fact that it contributes to outsider stereotypes of LGBTQ+ individuals as hypersexual objects. But, in many ways, what is more, problematic is the fact that lesbian relationships play into the hands of heterosexual male fantasies—something this film, given its careful casting and crewing of people from within the LGBTQ+ community, appears to stand firmly against.
As the characters all gleefully pack into a cinema the following Christmas, marking how perfect their lives have been in the year since the film’s key events, the audience is offered a clear moment of reflection. Both a reflection of the narrative we have bored witnesses to, but also the cinematic experience.
Sadly, for me, that reflection was a reminder of how ready I was to conclude my viewing after the opening summary montage. It gave me a moment to reconsider the film’s crisp but agreeable aesthetics, strong performances bogged down by average scripting and problematic representations and squandered thematic potential.
In such a way, it only went to confirm that Clea DuVall’s struggled with the complicated line of creating a meaningful LGBTQ+ film and creating universal appeal. And as a result, will undoubtedly fall on the pile of forgettable holiday films.
By: Leo London