Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Review: Happiest Season

If you’re a lesbian or queer women who likes Christmas, or you ever dreamed of kissing a woman under the mistletoe, or you made out with your bestie freshman year when you both stayed in the dorms over winter break only to feel funny about it for months afterward, well, do I have the the movie for you.

“Happiest Season” comes out today on Hulu, exactly one month before Christmas. And it’s the early Christmas present your little gay heart always wanted to find waiting for you under the tree. In fact, it’s the lesbian holiday rom-com your inner cheesy rom-com watcher wishes she could be watching instead all those Lifetime/Hallmark Christmas rom-coms about marrying princes, medievel knights and/or blueberry farmers you secretly watch while wrapping presents year after year.

What’s most remarkable about “Happiest Season” isn’t its cast (which is undeniably remarkable given it’s filled with A-list names from Kristen to Mackenzie to Dan, Mary, Victor, Aubrey, Alison and more) or its subject matter (this is a year filled with a truly remarkable variety of quality choices for queer women who like everything from moody ghost stories or fossil hunting historical pieces and now holiday rom-coms). What’s most remarkable about “Happiest Season” is how utterly conventional it is, and I mean that in the best way possible.

“Happiest Season” is exactly what you’d expect from a holiday rom-com, down to scenes of sibling rivalry devolving into slapstick violence to The Big Unforeseen/Unlikely Obstacle that almost breaks them apart to that most classic of rom-com of moves involving one half of a non-married couple hiding semi-clothed behind a bedroom door from disapproving parents. And, like their straight counterparts, they get just physical enough to remind you they are adults who totally have sex, but not enough to make it too awkward to watch with your mom.

Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And that’s OK. That’s very OK. It’s OK because the big difference is, of course, instead of a good-looking straight couple at its center, there’s a good-looking lesbian couple at its center.

I have now watched “Happiest Season” three times in full and can honestly say that I plan on rewatching it each year during the Christmas season. It’s that kind of movie. In fact, along with “Carol,” I believe lesbian and queer women now have two – albeit very different - holigay classics to enjoy of their very own.

The light-on-its-feet affair is helmed by Clea DuVall, who directed and co-wrote the film. Along with proving the movie unassailable queer bona fides, DuVall and Stewart’s presence roots the movie in the modern gay experience. DuVall also makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance during the credits, finally bringing your youthful crush on her since her Graham days in “But I’m a Cheerleader” full circle.

“Happiest Season” walks that razor-sharp-enough-to-trim-your-lesbian-undercut line between appealing to its eager contemporary queer audience and reaching out broadly to straight folks. Hence the subject matter, which is admittedly some fairly basic Gay 101 stuff. A lesbian couple (Kristen Stewart’s Abby and Mackenzie Davis’s Harper) goes home for the holidays, only to find out that Harper hasn’t come out to her parents yet, thus complicating Abby’s plans to propose.

Along the way exes show up (someone get every single lesbian Riley’s phone number - hello, a single lesbian doctor working at Johns Hopkins as played with hand-in-pockets authenticity by Aubrey Plaza). And Parker’s sisters played by Alison Brie and Mary Holland (the film’s other co-writer) add plenty of zany WASP-families-are-secretly-crazy comedic interludes.

If you’re used to seeing K-Stew from the “Twilight” franchise or her more edgy indie fare, “Happiest Season” will give you a window into her funny side. It’s a little unbalancing at first watching someone so patently hip use a dorky reindeer glider to skate around an ice rink or awkwardly fail to impress the parents. Her very specific, low-key, continually too-cool-for-school persona at first might seem an odd fit for a rom-com. And at times, it seems Mackenzie and Kristen’s energies don’t entirely connect. But they have enough chemistry to make you care, and that’s what matters.

Making “Happiest Season” so traditional in many ways is perhaps the perfect bait-and-switch. It gets more people to watch what for queer viewers will be an affirmation and for straight viewers will hopefully be an eye opener about why some people still struggle with coming out. In the end, we’re all just humans who want to be loved, and anything that puts up potential barriers to that love is, shall we say, complicated.

Yes, a lot of things have changed in our political landscape. Things have gotten better. We can legally marry. We can serve in the military (and hopefully our patriotic trans and non-binary servicemembers will soon again – fuck, and I mean this most sincerely until the end of time, Donald Trump). But so much is still not equal, and we have so many fights left to win. And that fact that it took until the year 2020 for a mainstream holiday rom-com featuring lesbian leads to be even be made.

Dan Levy brings his best Woke David Rose energy to the role of Abby’s gay male best friend. He also provides its compassionate heart while walking hetero watchers gingerly through The Gay Experience, a bit like the unseen stage narrator of “Our Town,” except he is very seen and very welcome. Still, if you’re a hardened gaymo like me, you’ll find your heart growing several sizes as the movie reaches its inevitable emotional crescendo.

Look I never thought, growing up as as a nerdy kid in the Midwest who liked Jennifer Connelly in “Labyrinth” a little too much, that one day one of the biggest movie stars in the world who also happened to be gay would play a gay character in a lesbian rom-com with a major joke/plot point about literally hiding in the closet - but here we are. Now every little lesbian and queer girl growing up has a cheesy – and I mean that in the best way possible – lesbian rom-com of their very own. And that matters.


Karen said...

I hate Christmas! Many who I know find it heteronormative and don't need the religious dogma in our lives. To me it is just another day and the corporations try to make us feel worthless if we don't want to partake in it.

Carmen San Diego said...

I just watched and I liked it a lot! It’s a fun lesbian rom-com!
It exhausting that people are complaining about the plot and the cast
It’s not meant to be Macbeth, it’s just a fun holiday movie And I plan on watching it again

Anonymous said...

Dorothy S: i love this movie and think it is an important milestone in queer representation in media, and here's why...

Karen: i hate Christmas, it's morally wrong and here's why...

Me: seriously, KAREN?! Lmao

Anonymous said...

You can tell Karen's fun at parties.