It’s enough to frazzle anybody’s nerves. The prospect of meeting your partner’s family for the first time comes with a tonne of built-in pitfalls. Taking that step at Christmas, especially if you’re spending several days with them, cranks up the tension even more. And if you’re planning to pop the question at the same time …. well, that’s just asking for trouble.
That’s exactly what Abby (Kristen Stewart) has in mind in the latest of 2020’s festive offerings, Happiest Season. It’s her partner, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who suggests spending the holidays with her folks – in blissful ignorance of Abby’s plans, of course. But Harper has a few secrets of her own – she’s not told her parents that she’s gay or that she and Abby live together. Cue an increasingly elaborate pretence, with the two sleeping in separate rooms because they’re “flatmates”, disguising their relationship not just from the parents but Harper’s sisters and her ex and phone calls home to close friend John (Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy), who is full of compassionate advice but not exactly the person you’d want to look after your pet sitting business in your absence.
Clea DuVall’s seasonal rom-com stands out from all the more traditionally minded holiday movies for a host of reasons, not the least of which is its refreshing take on a familiar idea, approaching it with intelligence and perception. The idea of the gay couple trying to hide the truth from the family isn’t especially new – Amazon Prime’s Uncle Frank gives us a non-seasonal version – but DuVall adds an extra dimension, the sense of being an outsider who isn’t allowed be themselves. Abby can’t escape it, but she’s not the only one and, although it’s one of the ways the film creates humour, it also brings a certain pathos and a touch of reality that will strike a chord.
The smart and pithy script beautifully balances laughter, smiles and the occasional tear and is delivered by a pitch-perfect cast, headed by Stewart who is on her best form, uncomfortably trying to hide in the corner or in agony when she starts to doubt Harper’s love for her. As the mother of the family, Mary Steenburgen has some of the best lines and her facial expressions are priceless as she tries to cope with the demands of being the perfect hostess for her politically ambitious husband while keeping the peace between her daughters. And there’s some familiar faces from the small screen in supporting roles, especially Levy who is a glorious comedy turn one moment, and a Christmas angel the next. Parks And Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza never cracks a smile as Harper’s ex, needing only seconds to work out who Abby really is. And Glow’s Alison Brie is all winter frost as the older sister who looks down on everybody – but has secrets of her own as well.
Happiest Season has everything you could ever want from a Christmas movie – warmth, laughter, romance, the occasional tear and those essential fuzzies, as well as exemplifying the true festive spirit. It’s easily the best seasonal movie so far this year and will take some beating, but there’s more. It’s an instant Christmas classic, the one we need not just this year, but every year.
Romcom, Comedy, Christmas | Cert: 12 | Digital | 26 November 2020 | Dir. Clea DuVall | Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Dan Levy, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza.