This is not the first article about Happiest Season and I am sure it will not be the last, but I wanted to share some of my own thoughts about this queer holiday film. For those who may not know, Happiest Season stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper. The two have been together for a year and on a whim Harper invites Abby, who typically does not do much to celebrate Christmas, to come with her to her parents’ for Christmas. Abby finds herself actually excited by this idea and thinks this will be the perfect time to propose. This plan though changes when she learns that Harper hasn’t been completely truthful.
Harper had told Abby she came out to her parents and they were totally okay with her being in a relationship with Abby, but it turns out that this isn’t the case. She never actually came out, but had really wanted Abby to come with her for Christmas. Now I am going to give Harper some leeway here, while I do not condone lying to a partner, I can understand the fear Harper felt about coming out. She does not expect her parents to accept her coming out based on their reactions to someone she had been friends for years. I’ll get more into that relationship in a bit. While I can understand the fear and keeping herself closeted, I wish Harper had just told Abby the truth or not fabricated the coming out story at all. If she had told Abby she was afraid to come out or needed more time prior to bringing her home I think she would have been understanding. While we don’t fully get to see their relationship, the movie does start with a fun montage sequence, based on her behavior through a majority of the movie Abby seems very supportive and willing to wait for Harper. Abby agrees to pretend to just be Harper’s friend, she even pretends to be straight, but this doesn’t make anything less stressful.
Harper begins to act differently, which many people do when around their families, especially when the family dynamic is competitive or not positive. What I see in her behavior is a sort of survival mode, which she has not adapted to include Abby. Harper is not fully prepared emotionally to handle the strain of her family and also support Abby in the way I am thinking she does in their daily life. She begins pushing Abby away and even reverting to behavior that has helped her in the past, basically she acts like she is interested in her former boyfriend Connor. She spends time with him, touches his in a flirty way, and even stops herself from coming out to him when he asks why there relationship ended. While she tries to survive Abby is floundering. She doesn’t have Harper in her corner it seems and the more time she spends with the family the more things seem to go wrong. She is accused of shoplifting in a plot I am not a fan of and is also told to not come to an event the family is attending. During this she finds a sort of life raft in Riley, Aubrey Plaza, who she knows as Harper’s ex-girlfriend. What she didn’t know is what their relationship was like. The two had dated in secret and when this secret came to light, Harper outed Riley and distanced herself from her. This happened in high school, which is a difficult time for many people and based on Harper’s behavior in this film this outing falls within her attempts to protect herself. I do not condone outing, but do think that Harper was younger then and did not think through what she did.
Riley seems to have forgiven Harper and is actively trying to help Abby survive her time with Harper’s family. The two strike up a very fast friendship and chemistry is built for the audience. I really like both of these actresses already and I will admit to almost immediately shipping them. My wife Krista and my sister also agreed that this relationship seemed like it could be romantic. While the two do not get together in the end, I do think their relationship resonated with the audience because we actually get to see the relationship build between the characters. Harper and Abby are given the montage, but they are only still images. This doesn’t allow viewers to connect as deeply with Harper and Abby, which puts them at a disadvantage. I honestly started to anticipate an almost The Family Stone break-up and new relationship creation in this story, but I can understand that what they wanted to do was ultimately have Harper and Abby stay together. This time is meant to be a growth moment for Harper and strengthen the relationship, which is fine, I though still wish Abby and Riley had gotten together for my own selfish shipping desires.
I really enjoyed this movie, but I do want to point out some things I did have issues with and I know I have seen mentioned elsewhere. If you want a huge breakdown of the movie you should check out Autostraddle’s round table piece. I wanted to personally wish this had been a bit more rom-com like. It didn’t have to go full Hallmark movie, but there was a lot more emotional processing in this than I had expected to be doing. Now I did wind up watching the movie twice in a row and on the second watch I could lean into the funnier moments a bit more, but I had expected this to be a bit lighter in scope. I also thought this was a super white movie. There were very few BIPOC in the film and those who were there didn’t have major roles, plus those kids were just odd. Maybe no one really knew how to direct the kids, but they felt like they were supposed to be creepy, but also cute, which didn’t fully work. I am very glad this movie exists and am really hoping that this opens up opportunities for queer BIPOC, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people in the mainstream media. I think this was a good stepping stone for opening the door to more diverse stories.
As a quick tie up and end of article shout out I want to say I loved Mary Holland as Jane. She was the standout character to me and I would love to see more of her. If they make a sequel I need way more Jane. I also enjoyed Dan Levy as John, who was a character very similar to David in Schitt’s Creek. He added some levity and that fish plot cracked me up. I now really want to rewatch Schitt’s Creek which is never a bad thing. I will also probably watch this movie again at least once before Christmas and it will probably continue on as a holiday traditional watch for my wife and I. If you haven’t watched Happiest Season yet you can find it on Hulu. If you have seen it and want to share your thoughts feel free to post in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter, @kleffnotes.