NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Happiest Season: A thoughtful comedy about family and holidays

Going home to see your family for the holidays is stressful. Of course, you love them and you’re happy to see them, but let’s be honest here. It’s stressful!

It’s even more stressful when you’re secretly gay and bringing your lesbian lover home but no one in your family knows you’re a lesbian so you have to pretend that you’re just roommates. That’s the premise of the new Hulu Original Christmas movie, Happiest Season. Directed by Clea DuVall, the movie stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis and features an amazing supporting cast consisting of Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Dan Levy, and Aubrey Plaza, plus many others.

The film follows Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Davis) when they go to Harper’s childhood home for Christmas. Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s gay, which Abby isn’t aware of until the two have already almost reached the house.

Now, for five days, she’s forced to pretend to be Harper’s platonic roommate around Harper’s family. Harper’s father is running for city mayor and wants his family to look perfect and avoid any potential scandals. Harper’s mother is obsessed with projecting the image of the perfect family on Instagram. One of Harper’s sister is overly hyper and kind of odd, and her other sister is emotionally repressed and has two kids who seem miserable.

One of the things I like about this movie is the fact that there’s no antagonist. There are no characters looking to cause problems or make trouble. The antagonist is, in a way, life itself.

From the moment we’re introduced to Harper’s family, we immediately see why she hasn’t felt comfortable coming out. Her family is obsessed with projecting a certain type of picture-perfect conservative image, and Harper hasn’t felt like being a lesbian fits into that image. No one in the family seems like a bad person, rather, they just seem like they have shallow priorities.

This is my favorite role I’ve seen Kristen Stewart in for quite a few years. It’s easy to look at her and remember how robotic she felt in movies like the Twilight movies and Snow White and the Huntsman, but I have to give her credit for doing a great job in this movie. She’s not overly emotional but she does succeed in conveying Abby’s complex emotional state.

Harper is a little harder to like. At first, you want to feel bad for her. Coming out to your family is so difficult to do and she clearly doesn’t feel like she can do it. But the way she essentially traps Abby into living this lie is pretty sleazy. She waits until they’re already on their way to the house to drop the bomb on Abby.

Then there’s Harper’s behavior while she’s home and reunited with old friends and exes. I won’t spoil it but she comes across as selfish. It makes you wonder why Abby is with her.

The side characters outside of Abby and the family are all bringing something to the table, and no one feels superfluous. We get to meet Harper’s ex-boyfriend, an ex-girlfriend, and some colleagues of Harper’s father. Dan Levy also co-stars as Abby’s friend and confidant. At first, he comes across as the type of annoying guy who’s “too woke” and takes a stand against absolutely everything. As the movie progresses though, he becomes more likable and shows that he’s actually a deep person.

Just about every character gets a moment to shine. While it’s easy to look at some characters as being stereotypes or tropes, once you get to know these people, you realize they’re much more complicated than that.

Something else I enjoy about this movie is how universal it feels. Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or not, you can relate to the idea of trying to live up to your family’s expectations.

When you’re an adult returning home, there’s an odd contrast between being an adult with a job, a home, maybe a family of your own, but also being a kid around your parents. No matter how old you are, your parents will always look at you the way they did when you’re a kid. It’s just part of being a parent.

And we can all understand the desire to please our parents and make them proud of us. And if you have siblings, it’s natural to compare yourself to them. Who’s wealthier? Who’s married and who’s single? Who has the better career? There’s a type of competition that happens between adult siblings whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Happiest Season is a very well-written movie. It’s got comedy, it’s got drama, it’s got holiday cheer. The cast is wonderful and their characters are three-dimensional and well-written.

Even though it’s a movie centered around LGBTQ+ characters, I wouldn’t classify it as an LGBTQ+ movie. The movie is about family dynamics and just happens to prominently feature some lesbians. I highly recommend checking this one out!