Each December brings us endless predictable hetero Christmas films. This year, though, Clea DuVall has gifted us with Happiest Season, a lesbian festive flick featuring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. The movie is entertaining, heart-warming and frankly, what we all deserve after enduring the shitshow that was 2020.
Happiest Season is a Christmas film through and through. It has snowscapes, quirky families, a cheesy love story, and plenty of emotional speeches in the cold. A queer storyline in a movie like this is honestly a huge deal; it never happens. The significance was not lost on those I saw the film with at the Coburg Drive-In, as it premiered as part of Melbourne Queer Film Festival. Hot outfits, gay kisses and badass moments were met with a mass of car honks and ecstatic screams from hundreds of cars.
The film sees Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) travelling to Harper's family house for Christmas, only for Harper to drop the bomb that she's never actually come out to her parents. I'll be honest, this plot point had me worried the film would treat being 'back in the closet' as some sort of comedic trope – the classic Christmas movie hijinx of lovers almost being caught in "compromising" situations.
The first half of the movie did make me anxious about how delicately they'd treat the complex lives of the characters, with cheesy comedy tropes only barely cutting through. Glimmers of hope come particularly from John (Dan Levy)'s brilliant character, with great quips about heteronormativity, hook-up culture and the patriarchy. Additionally, Aubrey Plaza enters as Harper's brooding hot ex-girlfriend, and the plot thankfully begins to deepen.
The film brilliantly dances between vilifying and building empathy for Harper, who you initially despise for her treatment of Abby; forcing her to stay closeted; and flirting with her high school ex-boyfriend to please her parents. As John points out, Abby deserves to be with someone who doesn't hide their love. What starts as a movie with an anxiety-inducing plot about homophobia ends up being an intimate love letter to the complexities of queer identities and love stories.
As the film progresses, you see how shame, internalised homophobia and a conservative family's obsession with image have deeply impacted Harper, and you begin to see just how complicated queerness can be. A heart-warming conversation between Abby and John takes place, discussing how all queer folks are on different journeys with self acceptance, but that we all deserve patience and love. The movie is a tribute to chosen families, the nerve-racking beauty of living authentically, and queer relationships everywhere.
The performances are brilliant, particularly from Stewart and Levy. The soundtrack featuring a brand new song from Tegan and Sara is truly a blessing. And I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't mention Kristen Stewart's outfit in the Christmas Eve Party. She wears a white shirt and studded blazer, both open almost down to her belly button, truly a Christmas gift for all.
The production of this film marks a big moment for queer folks. Rarely do we see ourselves represented in a traditionally heteronormative genre. Holidays can be awkward for anyone, but many queer people have added layers of complexity around family dynamics, the question of bringing their partners along to celebrations, or staying closeted for safety. Happiest Season does a decent job in exploring those challenges. It's not perfect, but overall it's pretty charming. And hey, now we can finally say that we have ourselves a lesbian Christmas movie.