The 400-Word Review: Happiest Season
By Sean Collier
November 26, 2020
Like all good holiday movies, “Happiest Season” begins with the assumption that the yuletide is a perilous, stressful time likely to end in disaster.
Too Scrooge-ish? We all know it’s true. Glad tidings and warm feelings are the exception; when achieved, they’re usually forged in the flames of prior seasonal disaster.
Those trials await Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a couple heading to the exurban home of Harper’s family. They’ve previously spent the holidays apart, owing as much to Abby’s disinterest — her parents died when she was 19, and she hasn’t been one for tinsel since — as to the fact that Harper only recently came out to her parents.
After being stricken with a bout of Christmas spirit, however, Harper insists they throw caution to the wind and go together. The big reveal arrives en route to the homestead: Actually, she didn’t come out to her family at all. They think Abby is her roommate. It’s a hell of a twist, considering they’re already far enough down the road that Abby can’t bail.
It also puts a serious damper on Abby’s plans to propose.
The tension only increases, as Abby meets Harper’s status-obsessed parents (Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber), fiercely competitive eldest sister Sloane (Alison Brie) and awkward-at-best middle sister Jane (Mary Holland, who is also the film’s co-writer). Plus, there’s a pair of exes — one male, one female — roaming around. And Dad is running for mayor. And there’s a pair of nosy twins butting in. Also, Abby is briefly detained by mall security.
Clea DuVall directed and co-wrote the film, which manages to mine its uncomfortable circumstances without devolving into sitcom-esque hijinks. While it is a light comedy and not a melodrama, the main mode of “Happiest Season” is empathy: for Abby’s plight, understanding her partner’s circumstances but still stinging with rejection; for Harper’s fear, conditioned from years of self-denial in service of family; even for Jane’s inability to keep up with anyone around her. (This character, admittedly, is a little forced.)
Perhaps the highest compliment I can deliver to “Happiest Season” is this: I did not know how it was all going to turn out. Among holiday flicks, that’s remarkable; the guarantee of a happy ending is practically the raison d'être of Christmas movies. If you can make me doubt that everyone will end up sipping cocoa, the film is a success.
My Rating: 8/10
“Happiest Season” is now streaming on Hulu