Before Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invited her to spend Christmas with her family, Abby (Kristen Stewart) was ready to sit Christmas out. She’d arranged to pet sit for some people. The holidays were going to be no fuss but, after agreeing to go, Abby starts to look forward to the trip and meeting Harper’s parents for the first time.
It’s Harper who starts to sound like she’d rather not have said anything and, right when they’re almost at the house, Abby find out why. Although she’d told Abby she’d come out to her parents over the summer, that wasn’t precisely the truth. Her family doesn’t know that she’s gay and, as far as they’re concerned, Abby is her orphan roommate who doesn’t have anywhere else to be (and while the orphan part is true, that might not have been what Abby led with when introducing herself)
Directed by Clea DuVall and with a screenplay by DuVall and Mary Holland (who plays one of Harper’s sisters, Jane), Happiest Season doesn’t bring out the best in Harper and Abby’s relationship but it does make for a romantic comedy that could become a holiday staple in the coming years.
With Harper promising to tell her parents after Christmas, Abby decides to stick around. What’s five days for the woman you love, after all? But on top of the holiday madness, Harper’s dad (Victor Garber) is running for mayor, which adds politics and campaigning to the mix.
It’s a small detail but one of the smartest decisions DuVall makes is to utilize the opening and closing credits. She even makes a director’s cameo in the closing ones, but it’s the opening credits that are a perfect example of condensed storytelling. Starting with a painting of a generic Christmas scene in Pittsburgh, it’s not immediately clear that these paintings are going to be of the characters from the movie. Once that’s sorted, though, each of the paintings is dated, starting with December 14th. This gives the impression that the film is building up to the present day and, while that’s not untrue, the first paintings are actually of last year’s Christmas, when Harper and Abby met. In the end, then, you get to see a whole year of their relationship and that couldn’t be more important going forward, because, if this was a new relationship, Abby would have no reason to stay, but because DuVall provides viewers with this glimpse into their history, their relationship becomes bigger than the five days featured in the movie.
While Happiest Season does indulge in some Christmas movie tropes, especially towards the end when things get a little too smoothed over, that’s what the genre’s about, and Stewart’s performance really sells how much she cares about Harper but is going to speak up for herself. Fans of Schitt’s Creek will be happy to have some new Dan Levy content to imbibe, as he plays Abby’s best friend, John. Also, in the cast: Alison Brie plays Harper’s competitive sister, Sloane, while Aubrey Plaza plays Harper’s ex-girlfriend, Riley.
Happiest Season begins streaming on Hulu starting Wednesday November 25th.