A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: “Happiest Season” (2020)

“Happiest Season” is the newest addition to the Christmas holiday comedies, coming from actress turned writer and director Clea DuVall. Originally set to get a theatrical release through Sony’s TriStar Pictures but because of the pandemic, it’s now premiering on Hulu. “Happiest Season”, has everything you’d expect and is predictable as they come; but the main difference here is that DuVall injects some diversity into the genre by portraying the central characters as a lesbian couple. DuVall does a solid job of exploring the difficulties and joys of LGBTQ relationships. Starring as the young couple is MacKenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart, who have great chemistry together and put in two impressive performances. The great cast doesn’t end with them, featuring a stellar ensemble. Including scene stealing Dan Levy, the Emmy award winning star and creator of “Schitts Creek”. This is just another step toward a genuine inclusiveness for the LGBTQ and takes a risky step in it’s diversity, but leaves a sweet impression on you. While “Happiest Season” could have a bit more edge to it, Clea DuVall who also co-wrote the script gives us some well earned laughs and genuine smiles. 

Whether you enjoy them or not, Christmas movies become a part of our lives come every November and December. Christmas set family dramas and romantic comedies typically adhere to a pretty strict and routine formula. These movies are all about family coming together for a “Home for the holidays” scenario, featuring some kind of culture clash, dramatic misunderstanding and some form of high-profile disaster involving the holiday itself. 

You can see all of this displayed in films from studios who loves to make them and who bank on millions of viewers every year, from Hallmark to Lifetime to Netflix to Hollywood studios. “Happiest Season” is newest addition to the Christmas holiday comedies, coming from actress turned writer and director Clea DuVall (“The Faculty”, “Identity”), which was originally set to get a theatrical release through Sony’s TriStar Pictures but because of the pandemic, it’s now premiering on Hulu. 

Clea DuVall’s “Happiest Season”, has everything you’d expect and is predictable as they come; but the main difference here is that DuVall injects some diversity into the genre by portraying the central characters as a lesbian couple. DuVall’s does a solid job of exploring the difficulties and joys of LGBTQ relationships.

“Happiest Season” sees Abby (“Twilights” Kristen Stewart) who is happily in love with her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis “Terminator Dark Fate) and has plans to propose to her. Harper takes Abby home with her for the holidays to meet her family, but on the way discloses a major issue: that she hasn’t told her parents she’s gay. Harper’s dad, Ted (Victor Garber “Alias”) is currently in the middle of a mayoral campaign and Harper’s mom Tipper (Mary Steenburgen “Parenthood”) is obsessed with keeping up appearances for the sake of good press. Over the holiday, Abby and Harper’s relationship has is forced back into the closet, with Abby posing as Harper’s orphaned roommate, instead of disclosing that the two are in a romantic relationship.

Complications ensue, of course, when Harper’s competitive, high-maintenance sister Sloane (Alison Brie “Community”) and her picture-perfect family show up and immediately suspect something’s up between her and Abby. Harper’s high school ex Riley (Aubrey Plaza “Dirty Grandpa”) also thinks there’s more to Harper and Abby’s connection than they’re telling and becomes an ally. Abby’s best friend John (Dan Levy “Schitts Creek”) also provides Abby with emotional support as she starts to worry if Harper’s refusal to come out means their relationship is doomed.

Mackenzie Davis has really made a name for herself in just short amount of time. Breaking out in AMC’s 2014 series “Halt and Catch Fire” to working alongside the likes of Matt Damon in “The Martian”, Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner 2049”, Schwarzenegger in last year’s “Terminator: Dark Fate”. Davis who also starred in one of this year’s best films, the political comedy “Irresistible” really shines in “Happiest Season”. She continues to be every director’s secret weapon, as Davis can literally deliver on every aspect of the movie, keeping the comedy grounded but also delivering a really poignant performance. 

Kristen Stewart who has gotten better over the years and proved what a capable actress she can be. In “Happiest Season”, she brings out things in her that we haven’t been able to see before. Stewart gives a game performance and puts in a believable turn which goes a long way into cementing her as someone who is at ease with both drama and comedy. Together, Stewart and Davis have great chemistry and put in two impressive performances as two young women trying to navigate their sexuality the best way they know how.

The great cast doesn’t end there as “Happiest Season” features a fun and stellar supporting cast. Emmy award winning star and creator of “Schitts Creek” Dan Levy is no surprise the scene stealer of the movie. Levy has a wonderful monologue that comes across so poignantly as he tells Abby “Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version and everything in between. But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment, right before you say those words, when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next”.

Levy is an absolute gem and he is fantastic as Abby’s best friend, who is there for her in a way that doesn’t enable, but he does sympathize. Levy is reminiscent of Rupert Everett’s George from “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, including having to portray and pass as a straight man . Unlike “My Best Friend’s Wedding” it’s only played for laughs here briefly. 

DuVall, co-writes the screenplay with Mary Holland who co-stars as MacKenzie Davis and Alison Brie’s odd duck sister Jane (her scene where she still heart throbs over Josh Hartnett is hilarious). Both DuVall and Holland fully acknowledges that Harper’s behavior is awful; of staying in the closet is a personal choice for her, but to inflict it upon someone else is downright ugly. Especially it being someone she loves as much as Abbey. Thanks to Kristen Stewart’s empathetic performance; she makes it easy for viewers to feel about Harper the way that Abby does.

“Happiest Season” is one of a few major mainstream seasonal comedies this year, about a same sex couple. While some viewers may find the use of the closet and societal homophobia too heavy for a movie this breezy, but there’s a case to be made that this is another step toward a genuine inclusiveness for the LGBTQ. It takes a risky step, but leaves a sweet impression and not bitter one. 

While “Happiest Season” could have more edge to it, Clea DuVall’s movie has some well earned laughs and genuine smiles. It’s at its most potent when it examines what it means to join a family and it does a good job with the “home for the holidays” formula. 

“Happiest Season” best resembles the holiday family comedy “The Family Stone” (a must watch for me every Christmas), in terms of tone, direction, great ensemble and good script. It’s a nice addition to the holiday movie season that’s enchanting, touching, funny romantic comedy about love, acceptance and triumph over adversity.

GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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