Happiest Season (2020)

I am a bit of Grinch when it comes to Christmas. While being all grumpy during the holiday season is not my vibe, I don't like the money and time wasted on decorations, I don't like people pretending to be happy when they are not, and I f***king hate Christmas songs. Hence I would have never watched Clea DuVall's Happiest Season were it not directed by a woman and praised by bloggers I follow. And it would have been a loss on my side because, while it has its flaws, it is an engaging, moving and heartbreaking film. 

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) have been dating for almost a year when Harper, carried away by the festive moment, decides to invite Abby to spend Christmas with her family. To Harper's surprise, Abby says yes as she's planning on proposing and wants to ask for Harper's father's blessing. 

But at the last minute, Harper tells Abby that she lied about coming out to her parents, but that she is planning on doing it after the holidays, and asks Abby to play along as her friend in the meantime. 

Forced back in the closet, as Harper becomes caught up in pleasing her parents, Ted (Victor Garber) and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), which also involves hanging out with her high school boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman), while also dealing with her sisters, Jane (Mary Holland) and Sloane (Alison Brie), Abby begins to question the real nature of Harper as she doesn't resemble at all the woman she has fallen in love with.

While it's spoiled by a happy ending, the story is very engaging and heartfelt, and explores very well the struggles many LGBTQ+ people face when it comes to their families and the holiday season. Through the line "Everybody's story is different" delivered by a brilliant Dan Levy, it really goes to emphasize how it sill a big deal for some people to come out to their families; how hard and terrifying it can be to say those words when not knowing what one's family's reaction would be, or even worse, when one knows they won't be supportive; the fear of losing them because they are not able to love a child for who they are. It broke my heart to see Abby like that but at the same time, as someone who hasn't come up to her family yet, I couldn't help but relate to Harper and feel sorry for her too. 

The main characters, while they aren't particularly unique, are very interesting. Abby is one of the most understanding and patience characters I've ever seen on screen. Since her parents died when she was nineteen, she is asked to play the orphan roommate while also pretending to be straight and being constantly tested. She struggles to get Harper's attention and she suffers because of it, which is truly heartbreaking. As for Harper, she grew up in a conservative and controlling family, the kind of family who only cares about appearances and where love must be earned. This is not the first time Harper is dating a woman — an ex-girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) also comes back into her life — hence this is not the first time she's hiding her true self from her family because she is terrified of their reaction while hurting people she loves in the process. While this doesn't excuse her for becoming the rude and selfish person she becomes — and even denying her sexuality when word gets out —, she gets our sympathy because, after all, her family is a lot and nobody should ever be pressured to come out. Both Stewart and Davis give great performances and their undeniable on-screen chemistry makes their relationship feel genuine. 

As for the supporting characters, it's the actors who truly make them. Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen do a very good job at playing Harper's parents who are so blinded by looking for perfection that they don't even realise how their daughters feel. Mary Holland, who co-wrote the script with DuVall, shines as the eccentric sister, the one child who is always left one, as she portrays her in such a lovingly way. Aubrey Plaza is really incredible as she shines in every scene she in. It's Dan Levy, however, the real scene-stealer. Not only he delivers the most powerful line in the film, but his performance as Abby's gay best friend is truly comedic gold — his heterosexual impression will never not be funny. And I loved how attentive and caring he was.

What makes Happiest Season interesting and different from other coming-out films is DuVall's approach to the story. Instead of going full dramatic, she delivers a wonderful balance of drama and comedy, making you laugh while also keeping the seriousness of the theme. 

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