As our annual holiday festivities have come to a collective grinding halt, Hulu released “Happiest Season” on Nov. 25 as a timely escape from the throes of quarantine restrictions. The star-studded movie accurately depicts the disheartening feeling of having to choose between family and love, specifically within the context of heteronormativity. Directed by Clea DuVall (“But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)”), the film tells of a young woman Harper (Mackenzie Davis) who struggles to break the news to her friends and family that she’s a lesbian. Meanwhile, her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) reluctantly agrees to join Harper and her family for the holidays, under the assumption that Harper will at last come out to her parents post-Christmas vacation.
The film is the first-ever studio-backed Christmas rom-com to focus on a lesbian couple — a feat worth celebrating. Yet, it is a sign of Hollywood’s failure to sufficiently represent queer relationships with as much ease as their straight counterparts; LGBTQ+ audiences have consistently asked for equal representation for movies where the narrative isn’t exclusively centered around the struggle of coming out, or simply being gay. Regardless, “Happiest Season” is a definitive win for the queer community.
While many Christmas movie audiences would reasonably expect a feel-good holiday tale, the film instead shows the relatively saddening reality of Harper’s coming out narrative. What contributes most to the tension, however, is Stewart’s keen ability to body the role of Abby. Stewart plays her role — a loving girlfriend who continuously supports Harper through thick and thin —with such ease that viewers will find it easy to sympathize with the repeated disappointments and let-downs she faces over the course of the movie. Not to mention the half-joke, half-running gag of how she’s simply Harper’s orphan-roommate-friend that’s sure to leave viewers cringing alongside Abby.
Besides empathizing with an often frustrated Abby, viewers also become increasingly aware of how the rest of the family really feels under the guise of a perfect family unit. Middle-daughter Jane (Mary Holland), who is typically treated with the impersonal authority of a boss to an employee, reveals her frustration with being consistently left out of family affairs, while eldest daughter Sloane (Alison Brie), more or less regarded as the family’s wasted potential, struggles to hide a rocky marriage. Moving forth, viewers come to realize how much Harper emphasizes the importance of fronting a “perfect daughter” persona to those around her, especially her parents.
Though presented as the oft-repetitive, Hallmark-esque holiday movie, “Happiest Season” is more than meets the eye. The film effectively captures the gut-wrenching fear of being conditionally loved while intensely hoping for acceptance of one’s entire, true self. At moments teetering between good ‘ol holiday cheer and emotionally harrowing, intimate bits of dialogue, “Happiest Season” portrays the struggle of balancing one’s love and family life with such grace and warmth that it’s nearly impossible not to be moved to tears.
Mia Hammett is a Contributing Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.