Why 'Happiest Season' falls short as the LGBTQ+ romantic comedy to watch this holiday season
Kristen Stewart chats with USA TODAY's Patrick Ryan about "Happiest Season," the first same-sex Christmas film produced by a major studio. USA TODAY
"Happiest Season" on Hulu had all the ingredients to be a good, groundbreaking Christmas movie: actual gay people behind (director and co-writer Clea Duvall) and in front (Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, Victor Garber) of the camera; a trailer that promised a story of acceptance; and a primetime holiday season streaming release.
What it turned into, however, was a poor example of what a healthy gay relationship and a healthy coming out story should look like – especially with a glaring lack of such examples in mainstream media.
"Happiest Season" tells the story of Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a lesbian couple in love. Abby is ready to propose to Harper and plans to do so at Harper's parents' house over Christmas. The wrinkle: Harper's family doesn't know she's gay. The movie turns into less of a romantic comedy and more of a claustrophobic, "unhappy" season of the horror that is being trapped in the closet.
Abby and Harper stay in separate bedrooms and have to sneak around to get any alone time; Harper denies being gay in front of her whole family; and Abby lies to Harper's mother (Mary Steenburgen) and says that her gay best friend (Levy) is actually her ex-boyfriend, for starters. Harper generally leaves Abby to spend time with others throughout the film – mirroring her avoidance toward revealing her sexual orientation.
For some LGBTQ+ viewers, watching a movie like this resurfaces the horrors of being closeted – I say this as someone unpacking demons of my own after being closeted for 22 years. I didn't need to watch a movie like this and relive it. This isn't a knock on DuVall, as the film is inspired partly by her own coming out experience. But a more nuanced, fleshed-out movie could have gone beyond the trite.
'I feel like I know myself more': shared on Twitter. "The second would be Harper realizing that what she did to survive the first wave of coming out was bad, and that not only did she hurt herself in trying to assimilate, but she hurt the people around her." And as The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum points out, "there should be way more lesbian rom-coms, so one doesn’t have to bear the brutal weight of everyone’s holiday wishes."
The movie in itself isn't all terrible. "It's inclusive, surprising, clever and plenty heartfelt, Kristen Stewart's funny(!), and Daniel Levy's pop-culture takeover continues to be one of 2020's most wonderful things," writes USA TODAY movie critic Brian Truitt. I agree the film has heart, and had good intentions.
But just because something – or someone – has good intentions doesn't make something a part of appropriate LGBTQ+ film canon. This film's inclusion on any such list would make many a gay person quite "unhappy."