Romantic comedies typically follow the same storyline. A woman meets a man, they fall in love, they break up, they admit their mistakes and then happily get back together. Director Clea DuVall (‘But I’m a Cheerleader’, ‘Girl, Interrupted’) decided to play with this structure in her latest film, ‘Happiest Season’, but didn’t entirely succeed.
‘Happiest Season’ has Kristin Stewart star as Abby, a woman who has hated Christmas ever since her parents passed away. Her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), invites her to spend Christmas with her family to cheer her up. However, Harper is not out as a lesbian to her family, so Abby has to pretend to be her straight roommate for the holidays.
What initially seemed like a cute, wholesome holiday film quickly became too serious for its own good. Wanting to stay safe from homophobic relatives while also wanting to openly be in a relationship is a common problem LGBTQ+ people. Often we have to hide our true selves from family due to fear of being unaccepted, kicked out or disowned. So while this is imitating real life, it also shouldn’t be in a film like ‘Happiest Season’. Romantic comedies are supposed to be a form of escapism and harmless fun. LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t be reminded of their trauma while trying to watch a cute holiday film.
The argument could be made that this helps raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues, as romantic comedies are usually marketed for and watched by straight people. But should it be at the expense at queer people?
This isn’t helped by the film constantly painting Harper as the villain instead of her homophobic family. The only real comment they make on LGBTQ+ issues is at the beginning of the film, when they disapprove of Riley (Aubrey Plaza) for her “choice” to be openly gay.
Otherwise, it sets up Harper as being far worse to Abby throughout. Not only does she neglect to tell Abby about the “straight roommate” cover story until the last minute, but she also spends the majority of the film hanging out with old high school friends instead of with her girlfriend. If Harper wasn’t planning on spending time with Abby back home, why did she ask her to spend the holidays with them?
It only gets worse during the climax of the film. Just before meeting Harper’s family, Harper promises to come out as a lesbian after the holidays. But when Harper’s sister Sloane (Alison Brie) outs Harper and Abby’s relationship, Harper immediately denies it. Abby has spent days being unable to express who she is openly to anyone, mostly staying because of Harper’s promise. So when her own girlfriend denies their relationship when directly confronted about it, Abby is heartbroken.
Throughout the film, Abby only seems to enjoy herself when hanging out with Riley, who is also Harper’s ex-girlfriend. Riley further paints Harper as the villain when she tells the story of how they broke up. While they were in high school, someone accused Harper of being a lesbian. Instead of coming out, Harper hurt the girl she loved by claiming Riley was just “obsessed” with her. Sound familiar?
I think ‘Happiest Season’ should have ended with Abby getting together with Riley. They had more chemistry than Harper and Abby and actually spent time together. Meanwhile, Harper continually hurt Abby throughout the film, and we only saw them happy together during the very beginning and the very end.
However, if we ignore the film making Harper the villain, the film could have benefitted from a few adjustments to the script. It’s not as cheesy as holiday films typically are and there isn’t enough lightheartedness to balance out with the emotional pain it displays. While it’s a step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ representation in cinema, ‘Happiest Season’ could have benefitted from another draft.