Streaming Review

Happiest Season review – queer Christmas rom-com is an irresistible treat

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis are forced to pretend they're not a lesbian couple in Clea DuVall's warm hug of a holiday movie

Director Clea DuVall’s irrefutably charming Happiest Season takes the classic rom-com Christmas formula and sprinkles in a lesbian drama, unreservedly foregrounding its queer characters and instantly carving out a place in an extensively heterosexual genre. It's a wholesome hug of a movie that arrives just in time for Christmas.

We meet Abby (Kristen Stewart) and girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who originally planned to spend the season apart. Things change, though, when Harper, drunk on the Christmas spirit, asks Abby to come home with her for the holidays. There's just one caveat she fails to mention: she is not out to her family and the couple will have to pretend they are roommates, essentially putting themselves back in the closet.

Stewart brilliantly navigates this role of fluctuating outness. Although Happiest Season is about this lesbian couple, it is Abby – with her visibly taut posture and overwhelmed expression – who so often dominates the frame in grand parties and extended family meals. When together, Stewart and Davis’ chemistry is unmatched, the pair effortlessly captivating in moments when they do manage to escape the watchful eyes of the household.

Happiest Season thrives on the bemusing relationships of Harper’s family: the ever brilliant Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber are Harper’s self-conscious parents, whose high expectations of Christmas must be Instagram-perfect. Uptight Sloane (Alison Brie) is one of their three daughters whose constant disagreements with Harper provide plenty of comedic opportunity. Mary Holland’s adorable Jane is an under-appreciated gem who just wants everyone to have a lovely Christmas. Then there's John (Daniel Levy), Abby’s best friend, who is blessed with some of the witty script’s best lines, and Riley (Aubrey Plaza), Harper’s ex-girlfriend, whose solace is served with a lime wedge.

Devastated with how easily Harper retreats into the closet and assumes her place within a conservative household, Abby grows increasingly uncomfortable with the neatly wrapped lie that they present to the family. In denying their relationship, they reject their own identities, a fact that even the abundance of Christmas decorations cannot distract from.

There is a sense of responsibility that comes with DuVall and co-writer Mary Holland’s script – something they reconcile through the effortless pairing of comedy and vulnerability. Happiest Season tells a truth that so many queer people face when going home for the holidays: hiding and retracting personal progress. This sensitive subject is delivered with a pleasant optimism, a reminder that coming-out marks a point in a person’s timeline that should be done on their own schedule and is unexpectedly wise in this regard.

As gooey and sweet as molasses, Happiest Season is an irresistibly delicious treat. With its stellar cast and sparkling script, DuVall has made the Yuletide appropriately gay and in doing so has created an instantly rewatchable Christmas comfort film of the queer kind.

Happiest Season is available to stream on digital platforms from November 26.

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