Happiest Season (2020)
November 25, 2020 11:53 AM - Subscribe

Meeting your girlfriend's family for the first time can be tough. Planning to propose at her family's annual Christmas dinner - until you realize that they don't even know she's gay - is even harder. When Abby (Kristen Stewart) learns that Harper (Mackenzie Davis) has kept their relationship a secret from her family, she begins to question the girlfriend she thought she knew.
posted by ellieBOA (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you are also a lesbian who loves romcoms, I highly recommend this film!
posted by ellieBOA at 11:54 AM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was a whole mix of light and dark and funny and poignant and I loved it.
posted by Anonymous at 9:31 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I found it so cathartic to watch!
posted by ellieBOA at 9:50 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was surprised and impressed that the ending of the movie almost redeemed Harper in my eyes because the first two thirds felt like a remake of Get Out.

I really hope they make a sequel about Riley.
posted by zymil at 4:20 AM on November 26, 2020 [11 favorites]

Aubrey Plaza killed it in that role.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:28 AM on November 26, 2020 [19 favorites]

I liked it. And yeah, Harper's character went into some bad places but I can also relate to that -- I think it's pretty common to regress back into the role your family remembers you in regardless of if it's true. We saw that with all three sisters -- their parents' refusal to see them as they were now rather and only see them as who they used to be.

It was sweet and funny. It has a such solid cast. I wanted to see more of Aubrey Plaza.

My friend is doing a podcast where he's watching 60 Christmas movies in 60 days and he has a list of tropes and this definitely checked the "dead parents" and "one year later" boxes and I was delighted.
posted by edencosmic at 11:41 AM on November 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Twitter: "all we wanted for xmas this year was Kristen Stewart climbing Mackenzie Davis like a tree"
posted by bartleby at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was surprised and impressed that the ending of the movie almost redeemed Harper in my eyes because the first two thirds felt like a remake of Get Out.

Agreed. My partner and I were all but chanting "dump her Abby, for the love of god" going into the final third, but it ended up being okay. Still not great and if either one of them posted on AskMe I would be advising therapy immediately before even THINKING of getting married (I'm hoping the fact that they're still engaged a year later indicates them taking it slowly), but the resolution felt earned, at least. The little instagram shot in the credits of the family at Pride hit me hardest.

I'm really glad for Dan Levy's advice about coming out. It's so important to unpick the idea that coming out is something that LGBTQ+ people "owe" society and that people who aren't (or may never be) ready are somehow less valid. Everyone's different, every coming out is different (especially the ones you have to keep doing, because it's not just a one-and-done event at all), and I'm glad that message is getting out there.
posted by fight or flight at 1:16 PM on November 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

Cate Young over at Jezebel has some thoughts about the film, particularly about the ending:

But this is a Christmas movie, which means that after an appropriately realistic declaration of love, the two get back together— and that may actually be the film’s biggest flaw. For all the confusion that ensues in their relationship, their reunion feels far too easy...

In fact, by the film’s end, Harper has dragged Abby through a maze of near-unending emotional terrorism...It’s hard to keep rooting for them to be together...

What frustrates, though, is that Harper never actually does “just go for it” [i.e., finally come out and stop terrorizing her girlfriend] even as her alienation from Abby increases. It’s why it feels that by bringing the women back together, the film misses the opportunity to queer the holiday romance genre itself, by shifting the expectations of the form and asserting that a happy ending need not be the conventional romantic one...

Apology or not, it’s hard to believe that any relationship could survive the profoundly traumatic wound that Harper inflicted on a woman she loves.

I found it mostly a 1999-era mess of cliches,* filled with 2010-era unpleasant characters you were forced for little good reason to spend extended stretches of time with. There were about 18 utterly deal-breaking moments from Harper, so many that the lovers' reunion (not to mention the family's sudden healing) felt rushed and, yeah, completely unearned. I disagree with Young that the declaration of love was realistic; there'd been almost nothing in Harper's character during the previous 70 minutes to lead us to believe her "I promise I'll be better; I really do love you, honest." It was a classic bit of telling-not-showing, and really rang false.

Yes, my disappointment comes partly because I've grown bored with coming out stories in mainstream films, I know. This was a tired plot I've seen so many times before. If it makes folks happy, that's great, enjoy. But we deserve *so* much more in a queer holiday film in 2020 than what this one offered.

(*Not just one, but two Chaste Gay Best Friend characters!)
posted by mediareport at 3:25 PM on November 26, 2020 [9 favorites]

Kristen Stewart is fabulous in one of the 3 vignettes in Kelly Reichardt's "Certain Women," btw, if folks want more of her.
posted by mediareport at 3:30 PM on November 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are a bunch more LGBTQ+ movies coming out this winter.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:32 PM on November 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really liked this movie. The problem with Harper wasn't that she hadn't come out to her family (as poignant and good as that scene with Dan Levy was). The problem is that she lied about something really fundamental to her girlfriend, shoved her back in the closet, and didn't seem to consider her feelings or needs at all. It really did have Get Out vibes for a good chunk of the film. Abby had been through it and really wanted a family to love and accept her, and Harper just... didn't care about that, at all. In fact, she specifically kicked Abby where it hurt, repeatedly. Abby and Riley should end up together in the sequel.
posted by k8lin at 2:18 AM on November 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

In fact, she specifically kicked Abby where it hurt, repeatedly

The scene where Abby confesses to John that she actually loves Christmas but can't bring herself to enjoy it after losing her parents broke my heart partly because it felt like something that Harper was wilfully(?) ignorant of and underlined just how much Harper was neglecting her and how disconnected they were. It was horrible to realise that not only had Harper: 1) lied to her, constantly, for months, 2) mistreated her in front of her family, 3) allowed her family to believe these lies even when it was clearly hurting Abby, 4) neglected to tell her about any of this until the last possible moment, meaning that Abby was essentially trapped in this situation without her consent, but she'd also done it to someone who was still grieving in a very painful way over this EXACT holiday.

I do worry a little about how many of those red flags weren't discussed as red flags, but sort of just swept up in the whole bit about Harper not being able to accept herself. The coming out aside, the fact that she clearly has no trouble lying repeatedly and at length to Abby, as well as about Abby, should be a deal breaker, imo. By the end of the movie I was assuming that Harper would say anything to get Abby back and would go back on her word almost immediately if she could. She was lucky her family ended up being far more accepting than she was.
posted by fight or flight at 3:14 AM on November 27, 2020 [12 favorites]

I thought the movie was really great and 100x better written than 90% of the dreck that gets produced for Lifetime or Hallmark. Maybe I'm judging the movie on a curve, because well -- it is a holiday romcom, and any holiday romcom is going to fall apart with even a tiny bit of serious inspection of the characters or storyline. The movie is really well written and the whole cast is terrific. I liked that all three sisters were victims of the parent's need for perfection, not just Harper. AND ... I look forward to the 2475 fanfics that are being written write now that will explore everything that will be needed to repair Harper and Abby's relationship.
posted by pjsky at 8:19 AM on November 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Similarly, I really enjoyed it. Stewart and Davis were great. Victor Garber was perfect, and Mary Steenburgen was even more perfect. I'm not sure I've seen Alison Brie before, but she brought the tightly wound repression. And clearly Mary Holland wrote herself a delightfully fun part. Plaza's Riley provided an anchor to Harper's story, and Levy and the rest of the supporting cast rounded out a solid ensemble. The dialogue was snappy and sharp, and Duvall seemed to bring everything together well.

It *was* a Christmas romantic comedy, and there's a lot of problems and baggage that comes with meeting the tropes of that genre. But, you know, if I'm going to call out films in that genre, I'm not going to *start* with the first one where my wife and I could curl up and watch it and see a couple like us (except, you know, younger and way WAY better looking but also way WAY less functional) as the main characters having the Christmas cheer in it.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:07 PM on November 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

And clearly Mary Holland wrote herself a delightfully fun part.

Mary Holland is incapable of not being delightfully fun in every part she plays.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:23 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is one thing that shocked me - as the opening credits told our backstory, they did not take the opportunity to precede the “drinking wine in front of moving boxes” shot preceded by a shot of them driving or unloading a U-Haul. (Is “what does a lesbian bring to the second date? A U-Haul!” Still a joke or am I too old for the kids now?)

More seriously, thinking about it a bit, I think the shoplifting thing was a bit too dark. I know the goal was to put the entire relationship more at risk, but I think either shifting it to something else or playing it with more absurdity to shift the tone might’ve been better.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:37 AM on November 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Check the end of this uncomfortable promo interview clip with Dan Levy to see a hilariously over-it Aubrey Plaza say:

I hope that people walk away from the movie and they're, like, disappointed that Kristen Stewart didn't end up with my character, and they, like, riot in the streets about it.

The whole clip is peak Aubrey Plaza, enough so you'll probably start to feel bad for Dan Levy trying to do the ordinary promo thing with her.
posted by mediareport at 10:55 AM on November 28, 2020 [13 favorites]

Lesbian popcult site Autostraddle has a thoughtful roundtable about the film that gets at some of its many flaws, as well as its appeals. Autostraddle's first reviewer wrote kind of a gush so it's nice to see some more nuanced takes.
posted by mediareport at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't know what to make of it, I guess? I want to support gay Christmas rom-comming, so I watched it. It was better than I was expecting from the reviews I read beforehand. I'm generally not into Kristen Stewart (it seems like "painfully awkward" is what she is always doing), but at least this movie seemed maybe a little less of that? But then again, her whole part was "painfully awkward" due to the plot.

I don't feel like I can say anything new about how problematic Harper is. I get why she wants to hide, but her perpetual lying and selling out of her girlfriends does make you root for Abby to just flat out leave and/or date Riley instead (yes, sequel for Riley). Happily for her, the actual coming out ends up not being too bad, other than being outed in front of everyone at a party and having a tree and painting-destroying brawl, I guess :P

I really dislike the twins framing Abby for shoplifting just to be creepy little assholes, and it's even worse that the kids are African-American. The twins are weirdly awful throughout anyway, but that was especially awful.

I did enjoy John very much ("we need to talk about the fish"), even though his tracking EVERYONE was pretty weird/creepy, if also turning out to be needed in the plot. As for him being chaste, his first lines are about making sure a guy leaves his apartment, so....

It does have good casting. Look at Mary Steenbergen's delivery of explaining how her big shot law school "was gonna make partner" daughter has become a stay at home mom who makes gift baskets. That was masterful delivery of "I'm trying to put a good face on a life choice that obviously makes me deeply uncomfortable even though I know it shouldn't be and I am trying to support my child."

Where this movie got me was the end when everyone realizes they were trying to be perfect in order to get everyone's love. Even the dad is all "I basically spent all the family money to become mayor to make everyone love me." Wowza.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

John is important for all the logistics plot-wrangling so people can track people, but presumably he is also the reason Jane sold her book, since he was into her description and he works in publishing.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:49 PM on November 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

Another sharp, thoughtful critique: ‘Happiest Season’ Breaks The Only Rom-Com Rule That Matters

It is clear to viewers why we should root for Abby, who is a patient, supportive girlfriend. But it’s never clear why we should root for her to live happily-ever-after with Harper, whose redeeming qualities don’t go far beyond “loving Christmas.”

...The best rom-coms drive the plot through both internal and external conflict...But Harper’s character development is unconvincing and unearned. We don’t witness her making steps forward and dwell constantly on her many steps backward...

There are only so many times that a character can choose to fail the film’s hero and still be redeemed...If you’re making a romantic comedy, you need to write a relationship — and a love interest — worth rooting for.

posted by mediareport at 9:49 AM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am going to nitpick below, so let me start by saying this movie was charming and I loved the soundtrack! I also really enjoyed the opening title sequence art and the mom's Instagram feed at the end. A lot of cute touches and thought went into this production and I will absolutely watch it again. As holiday romcoms go, it is way less problematic than, for example, Love, Actually (which I also like, bring it haters).

I saw a lot of social media chatter about this movie before I watched it, so I knew Abby and Harper would end up together, and I knew I would be mad about it. Heh. To be fair, Riley is an objectively better person than Harper, but I didn't feel like the movie hinted at any non-platonic chemistry between Abby and Riley. More pity and camaraderie.

I do think having Harper disavow her relationship with Abby at the party went a bit far into DTMFA territory. Redeeming herself after that should involve a grander gesture than tracking Abby to the gas station. Hell, even Harper's dad turning down the donor money because it came with "make sure your daughter stays discreet" strings was a grander gesture than that.

The shoplifting plot was also strange - I think it was meant to be the wacky comic relief, but if so, they needed to give the mall cops more time or more memorable lines or something to make it pop. The twins must be going through a hard time with secrets, presuming they're onto their not so stealthy parents' divorce, so although that was cruel thing to do, I can't hold it against them much.

My boyfriend complained about the absolutely enormous house, but that is another trope of the genre, and aided in the Abby trying to sneak up to Harper's room only to be foiled by roomba sequence, which I liked.

I also liked the opening scenes in Pittsburgh. More Christmas movies set outside of New York and Chicago, please. Not that I dislike those, but I appreciate some civic variety.
posted by the primroses were over at 6:44 AM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I found this film to be a real mixed bag, but was happy to see it be made and glad for the discussions it's prompted. I appreciate when genre films try to shake things up a bit, but I also recognize the holiday romcom isn't necessarily the most fertile ground for innovation. That said, I'd rather watch movies that both make me laugh and have some problematic parts than ones which take no risks at all. This entertained me, but also made me think in a way a more traditional film likely wouldn't have.

The good:
  • A major production centering women and queer people is good to see
  • Pretty much all the performances were delightful and the comedy effective
  • A touching and sincere discussion of the similarities and differences of people's experience coming out
  • Though I didn't love the decision to stay with Harper, Abby never seemed in doubt about the fact that Harper was treating her badly, or that she deserved better
  • Harper's jealousy re Riley was appropriately dismissed, subverting the expectation that both she and Abby would admit they'd behaved badly.
  • Harper was self-aware and effectively communicated to Abby how toxic her family dynamic was
  • At the emotional climax, the sisters were more supportive of each other than expected. Narratively, Sloane needed to be the one to out Harper, but Harper didn't reflexively reveal Sloane's secret, which was refreshing.
  • Jane was a delightful stream of comic relief and having a woman play the socially oblivious nerd basically neutralized the problematic parts of characters like that for me. Plus it was nice to see her still able to be a part of the emotional climax of the film
  • Loved seeing Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme's parts
The bad:
  • Abby taking Harper back feels unearned and particularly at odds with her insistence on wanting someone who's ready to be out. I get that these decisions played up the emotional stakes, but it didn't quite pull it off.
  • Having Harper continue to lie to Connor felt like a missed opportunity to show that she really was ready to be honest about herself, but was just too afraid of losing her family. By contrast, telling Connor the truth when he specifically asked, seemed like a low-stakes way to show that Harper wasn't just being selfish in her secrecy.
  • The rapidity of the parents' change also feels unearned, especially the Dad's near instantaneous redemption arc. Powerful white men do not deserve this narrative absolution.
  • The father never seemed to undergo any real struggle or consequences. After doing the "right" thing and deciding to not hide his daughter for the sake of this political future, he still wins the election.
  • All 3 (or more?) queer women present as very femme; it would've been nice to see the diversity go deeper than Abby's wonderful style
  • With so few black people in the film, it hurt to see the most significant plot points involving them were shoplifting and (what seemed like at the time) infidelity. Since the twins didn't have any meaningful character development, it seems like there was a better way for Abby to get falsely accused and no reason why Sloane couldn't have been the one caught canoodling with someone other than her spouse.
  • The tone was wildly inconsistent in just a few places which made the mall cops and the Harper/Sloane fight feel like a different movie entirely
  • Aubrey Plaza's natural sassyness was disappointingly restrained. It probably wouldn't have worked right for the character, so I feel like she could've been used better in a different role.

posted by Cogito at 4:14 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

A queer female friend pshawed this movie when I brought it up on Thanksgiving and then three days later we'd both watched it and settled on "I'm glad this exists, box checked, maybe the next holigay romance will be better."

Harper is too awful for the limited amount we know about her to support. She is so awful that I was shocked her family allowed her to treat a guest that way, leaving Abby stuck at home alone with no transit or alone at parties repeatedly. I tried to imagine that she was an amazing girlfriend up to this point, but it didn't really work. I also get the styling choice that Sloane and Harper straighten (ha!) their hair to death when they're home to gain their flat-ironed mom's approval, but Harper's hair was so bad.

Riley deserves a spin off movie all her own, and I would tolerate a regular holiday romcom plot but I would love even more if we see her polycule trading gift ideas / trying to hide gifts from each other or if she's dating a bunch of folks who are awesome and everyone's happy about it. She'll be a medical resident so there could be holiday hospital hijinks?
posted by momus_window at 2:51 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's an interview with Clea DuVall about the film up on huffpo, which I found via this article about it on themarysue.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:32 PM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

There's an interview with Clea DuVall about the film up on huffpo, which I found via this article about it on themarysue.

After reading this interview and seeing a couple of Tiktok videos from WLW who strongly identify with Harper I feel really bad for Clea DuVall.

I think Harper probably represents the experience of either herself or someone she cares deeply about. Because DuVall is so close to the character she missed that the screenplay doesn't include enough explanation for Harper's actions for the majority of the audience who haven't experienced the same kind of trauma.
posted by zymil at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

That seems plausible. Also, I wonder if there's something generational as well - I think Harper's behavior read as way *way* more out of line today than it might've been in the 1980's or very early 1990's given how much less widespread community support there was for folks coming out.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:00 AM on December 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Proposal: follow-up film, male-male holiday romcom in which two competing holiday window designers for adjacent clothing stores fall in love, Dan Levy returns as supportive friend. Title: Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2020 [11 favorites]

TAKE MY MONEY, DirtyOldTown!!
posted by rmd1023 at 3:37 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought this was fun and an enjoyable watch, with Mary Holland's Jane an all-time great cinematic weirdo. Ana Gasteyer's first line had my howling with laughter: "This is my husband Todd, we met on Bumble."

However, like others here the central relationship didn't connect for me.

Stewart and Plaza had a magnetic chemistry for sure, but I think a big part of the reason that people like me are shipping Abbie and Riley comes down to expectations of the Christmas romance genre: our protagonist has an insensitive SO, travels to a small town, meets an understanding local who really gets them, and the two of them end up together in the end. That's how these movies are supposed to go.

I'm admittedly an enthusiast of the form but I was legitimately surprised and disappointed that this wasn't where the movie was headed. I was sure that Abbie and Riley were endgame, with Harper being a fleshed-out and eventually sympathetic Baxter who realizes she has a lot to work on.

(I wonder if my Hallmark-addled brain would have had the same reaction if it wasn't set at Christmas, if it was just an indie romance set during a family vacation instead.)

Someone could make the argument that the film is an intentional subversion of Christmas romcom tropes that would have ended with Abbie and Riley together, but I didn't get that feeling at all. To me it felt more like the writers were invested in the Harper/Abbie relationship and ultimately couldn't get the audience as invested as they were. (A bit more time pre-holiday trip would have helped.) And then they cast Aubrey Plaza and her natural 18 charisma, which only exacerbated the situation. I can imagine the creators in the edit bay watching the easy charm of the Stewart/Plaza scenes, mouthing "oh no"...
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:21 PM on December 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

The director cameo in this was basically self-insert fanfic and I loved it so much. She shows up in the credits as Aubrey Plaza’s new girlfriend, and I applaud her for carpeing the fuckin’ diem.
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:47 PM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Which Happiest Season Character Are You? Autostraddle Quiz

Overjoyed to get Riley!
posted by ellieBOA at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got Jane, my weirdo heart is so full! (Also pleased to see her labeled as the #1 fan favorite in the results, but maybe it would say that about all the options?) I thought choosing the Galapogos vacation instead of the Lord of the Rings one would doom my chances.
posted by the primroses were over at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Another weirdo, also Jane. I also cracked up at some of the quiz answers on this one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late to the party but my partner and I just watched this. I liked Jane a lot and it was confirmed when she said Jane reminded her of Tina from Bob's Burgers.
posted by Carillon at 1:12 AM on December 25, 2021

Just watched this and enjoyed it but definitely would rather have had Abby end up with Riley. It was funny because we had just watched Elf so it was funny to see Mary Steenburgen playing such a horrible mom!

(Jane was my favourite sister by far. And when I took the Autostraddle quiz I was pleased to end up as her!)

I did like Dan Levy’s character. I’d watch a movie about him and Jane.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:32 AM on December 26, 2021

There will be a sequel so fingers crossed for Abby and Riley!
posted by ellieBOA at 7:33 AM on December 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older The Crown: Avalanche...   |  Movie: Hillbilly Elegy... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments