HAPPIEST SEASON: Learning To Love Yourself This Holiday

There is never a shortage of films tackling the joy – and frustration – of the holiday season. Each year, former classics brought back into the spotlight for traditional binging, while new films are quickly absorbed into the future fold. The rom-com is no stranger to this time of the year, the bond, love, and challenges of a relationship met head on with the joy of the season and the families that encompass it. And while this year alone has had its own challenges, Happiest Season, from writer and director Clea DuVall, promises to kick off the 2020 holiday season with joy, hope and a strong sense of identity.

I was immediately attracted to Happiest Season, not only for its star-studded cast and director but also because of its story – one that was reminiscent of a holiday gem from a couple of years back. Following the story of a young woman bringing her girlfriend home for the holidays, complicated by the fact that she has not come out to her family yet, I found myself instantly drawing comparisons of Happiest Season to 2018’s Lez Bomb from Jenna Lorenzo – two films that would make an excellent holiday double feature. Where each tackles the challenges of relationships, they both deliver their own take on the need for diversity in all areas of film, Happiest Season finding its strength not in just the LGBTQ+ themes, but in the universal understanding of knowing one’s self and owning it.

A Holiday Lie

The film opens with a cleverly constructed montage of Harper and Abby’s first year together, artistically capturing the monumental moments in any relationship – first meeting, gifts, holidays, and first homes. There is a sweetness in the delicacy of the artwork, caressing a love, and nurturing a backstory to life. By the time the film picks up in present day, the audience has a strong sense of where these two are as a couple and the life they are shaping together. It is in this solid foundation presented swiftly and early on that gives credibility and authenticity to the narrative structure that is to follow.

HAPPIEST SEASON: Learning to Love Yourself This Holiday
source: Hulu

As the two make their way through the Candy Cane Lane Tour (accompanied by Sia’s catchy “Candy Cane Lane”), there is a warmth ruminating from the young couple, their antics and trust confirmed as they break away from the tour, scaling a house to take in the view. As viewers become swept up in the carefree nature of their relationship, Abby and Harper themselves become swept up in the moment, Harper asking Abby to leave with her to spend the holidays with her and her family. The only problem – Harper has not come out of the closet as previously believed. Promising Abby that they just need to get through the holidays for the sake of her family and her father’s career, their carefree and warming relationship is put quickly on ice.

And what seems like a simple lie to manage until the holidays are ended, at which point Harper has promised to come out to her parents, Abby and Harper descend into a vortex of confusion and self-depravation. As Harper relentlessly tries to live up to the expectations set by her parents, Abby tries to be what her girlfriend needs – both denying themselves and each other. As Christmas morning approaches, both find, faced with what they want and who they want to be, that before they can be devoted to one another, they must first be true to themselves.

A Success All Around

The strength of narrative that is established early on for Abby and Harper is a theme that the film carries through for all of its characters. Each is given their role in the family, with each of their nuances and traits confirmed and authenticated by the sets they are surrounded in. Trophies litter each of the girls’ childhood bedrooms, Harvard flags line the wall of the father’s office, the need for the perfect family image is reflected in each holiday decoration the mother places in every corner of the house. It gives strength to the expansion of the world beyond just Abby and Harper – and their friend John – solidifying the family perceived identities and driving home the personas we inhabit.

Where Happiest Season finds much of its success is in the relatability it is able to craft for a diverse audience. This is not a film for just the LGBTQ+ community, nor for the holiday binger. This is a film that surrounds itself with the themes of family and the power of discovering, accepting, and loving one’s self. Many will find themselves and their families are woven throughout the film and its characters. Most importantly, in the understanding that we all have personas, we exuded to the people around us – especially our parents. The journey is discovering and working to be as much of ourselves as we can be when we are ready.

HAPPIEST SEASON: Learning to Love Yourself This Holiday
source: Hulu

Yet, much of this overarching success would not have been as solid if not for the sharp and insightful script from the film’s director Clea Duvall. Here, Duvall is able to bring diversity to the holiday season, bringing more characters to the screen that reflect their audience, all while interweaving within the context of family. The camera is not afraid to look away, capturing the hardest and most joyful moments of heartache, fear, and love, Duvall understanding that to look away is to dishonor the journey of her characters.

And her mission to capture this journey for each individual on-screen is brought into focus by the keen performances of her cast. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis have undeniable chemistry, each performance working off the strength of the other. And kudos to Duvall for not feeling the need to make them the same or similar in height, one of the cutest moments between the two a shared kiss requiring Stewart to stand up on her toes. Dan Levy, fresh off his Shitt’s Creek run, does bring a bit of David to the table, though his performance breaking out of the confines of his previous role. There is a maturity and a lived life that runs through his words and actions, ones that make his character the pillar of support and welcomed breaks of comedic relief.

HAPPIEST SEASON: Learning to Love Yourself This Holiday
source: Hulu

Filled to the brim with strong supporting performances from Alison Brie, Victor Garbor, Mary Steenburgen, and Mary Holland, Aubrey Plaza was one of the biggest surprises of the film. Her emo and eccentric personas left behind for a reserved and wise young woman who becomes not only Abby’s confidant but a solid example of the limits of love and the length our journeys have already taken us. Plaza’s Riley is not out for revenge, spite, or destruction, but rather a hand in the dark to help guide others along the way. Because while this film may seem to be about Harper’s journey, it is also about Abby’s.

Conclusion: Happiest Season

While the film does find itself leaning to classic holiday tropes at times, it finds its own feet to stand on and its own journey to navigate. This is not a film that uses gay themes to spring on its characters, but rather as a propulsion of narrative and of self-discovery and acceptance. You do not need to be straight or gay to enjoy Happiest Season or to understand its messages – though it is a real triumph to see its representation on screen. We have all at one point or another found ourselves as the supportive friend, the longing child, the competitive sibling, and the unrelenting strive for perfection – and these are just to name a few – and Happiest Season executes with perfection.

Happiest Season is a holiday film that transcends a one size fits all, welcoming everyone home for the holidays.

How do you kick off your holiday season? Let us know in the comments below!

Happiest Season is now available for stream on Hulu!

Watch Happiest Season

Powered by JustWatch


Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Similar Posts