I know, I know! Y’all are here for the horror. So, you may be wondering how this review for a super sappy, holiday rom-com ended up on your favorite horror site. Here’s the deal: We need a little holiday spirit right about now. We can all use a story of family and warmth and love.

Alternatively, maybe we’re at a point where watching a film in which a family hosts an irresponsibly large holiday gathering in the midst of a political race is its own kind of 2020 horror. Anyways, here are my thoughts on HAPPIEST SEASON. Let’s make the Yuletide gay!

HAPPIEST SEASON is written and directed by Clea Duvall. The film captures the range of emotions tied to seeking acceptance, accepting yourself, and trying not ruin Christmas. The film stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis backed by one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled for holiday hijinks! Dan Levy, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen, and Victor Garber all lend their incredible performances to this incredibly sweet story.

HAPPIEST SEASON finds Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) madly in love. As the excitement and romance of the holiday season approaches, Harper begs Abby to join her on her annual trip to visit her family for Christmas. Taking this as a sign that the relationship is ready for the next step, Abby buys an engagement ring and plans the perfect holiday proposal for Harper. However, just before arriving at her parents’ home Harper confesses to Abby that she has not come out to her parents and is fearful of their reaction. Harper’s parents expect perfection and her siblings are relentlessly competitive, creating a recipe for disaster. Abby’s proposal plans are put back in the closet (as is their relationship) and their commitment is put to the ultimate test.

From the very first shot, HAPPIEST SEASON hits all the familiar beats of a holiday classic. In fact, it overly leans into the traditional trappings of a holiday rom-com. It hits the viewer like that first sip of hot cocoa, warming the heart and evoking that cozy holiday feeling. Abby and Harper are instantly infectious as a couple and love just looks all the more magical under twinkling Christmas lights.

Of course, it’s most noteworthy and praiseworthy to see such a traditional (dare I say, conservative) genre given the “love is love is love” treatment. The film is heavily populated with queer characters, from the always delightful Dan Levy in the “sassy sidekick” role to some notable performances that fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will instantly recognize. Like I said at the outset, HAPPIEST SEASON is here to make the Yuletide gay and it’s absolutely delightful.

More significantly, HAPPIEST SEASON very deftly navigates the very unique and personal coming out stories of LGBTQ+ people. The film recognizes the journey of finding the courage to come out and the full spectrum of experiences, from the positive to the heartbreaking, without derailing into tragedy and trauma porn. The queer characters in HAPPIEST SEASON are happy and safe, even when faced with hardship. They are thriving and assured and loved. As we all know, representation of joy is the most important representation of all.

When reflecting on HAPPIEST SEASON, it’s a natural reaction to think that the film’s open discussion of LGBTQ+ matters is what makes it fresh, hip, and modern. Which would be true, in comparison to your other garden variety holiday comedies, except for one vital point – these stories of finding love and acceptance and looking for love and acceptance go back much further than any woke moment in Hollywood. HAPPIEST SEASON is fresh and hip and charming, because it’s damn funny and smart. It’s also the holiday staple in the making that generations have deserved and patiently waited for.

On a structural level, HAPPIEST SEASON makes the most of the extravagance of the holiday season. Every shot is lovely, rich, and warm. The whip-smart writing is taken to the next level by the truly glorious cast. There is not a single weak link among them, with special props going to Dan Levy and Alison Brie. Without spoiling too much, dear Reader, just know that I want to see Brie play mean much more following this film.

HAPPIEST SEASON is a holiday comedy in the purest sense, but that doesn’t make it shallow. The film’s themes of heartache and fighting for acceptance and love hit hard. HAPPIEST SEASON also lovingly affirms the notion that sometimes the best family we have is the family we choose for ourselves. As we enter the holidays, in the midst of a global pandemic, finding contentment with the self and the loved ones we choose is a sentiment we may all cling to.

HAPPIEST SEASON is a warm embrace in film form. Wickedly funny and relentlessly charming, I’d recommend playing it on a constant loop for as long as it takes to keep the spirits bright.

HAPPIEST SEASON premieres November 25, 2020, only on Hulu.

Caitlin Kennedy
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