‘Happiest Season’: Fun, gay and bright, but Mackenzie Davis’s character sucks
Heads up! This review contains spoilers of “Happiest Season”
Holiday films are one of my favorite genres. From “The Polar Express” to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” I’m a huge fan of red-and-green blockbusters centered around candy canes and gingerbread. My one qualm with these films is the lack of both racial and romantic diversity. With all-white casts filled with straight characters and storylines, you’re not going to find much diversity in this merry genre unless you’re looking for it. However, Hulu’s new Christmas movie, “Happiest Season,” tackles one of those issues. Starring critically acclaimed actress Kristen Stewart, “Happiest Season” follows couple Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) as they go visit Harper’s family for the holidays. As with every film about visiting or meeting someone’s parents for the holidays, something has to go wrong, and “Happiest Season” is no exception. In this case, Harper’s family still thinks she’s straight and that Abby is her platonic, also-straight roommate. They are wrong.
Harper’s father is running for mayor, so everyone and everything has to be perfect so as not destroy his chances of impressing a major donor. Harper revealing to her family that she’s a lesbian and home for the holidays with her girlfriend does not factor into that plan. For a little over an hour and a half we get to watch as Abby and Harper struggle to pretend to be straight and maintain their strained relationship (so much drama for a Christmas movie, and it doesn’t stop there).
Harper’s relationship with Abby isn’t the only thing that’s strained; she and her sisters are far from the perfect trio. Older sister Sloane (Alison Brie) used to be a successful lawyer with her husband but elected to take it down a notch after they had their twins (they’re straight from “The Shining”) and decided to create curated gift experiences, i.e. gift baskets. The best part about it is: her husband’s cheating on her! Baby sister Jane (Clea DuVall) is weird in her family’s eyes and no one pays attention to her. Put the three of them together and they’ll compete for their parents’ conditional love. Conceptually, DuVall, who wrote the story, knocked it out of the park with this one and it has an original soundtrack with a song by Tegan and Sara. The fun film employs the “one character hates Christmas and the other one loves it” trope well enough, except for the sheer lack of extremely chipper remarks from the Christmas lover. But to make up for it, the film features Aubrey Plaza as Riley, Harper’s former best friend and secret high school ex-girlfriend, and Dan Levy as John, the gay best friend who killed Harper and Abby’s fish while petsitting.
Herein lies my main issue with this movie. Harper lied to Abby about coming out to her parents the previous year—hence the need for a heterosexual holiday charade—and plans to tell them after the holidays are over. This strike against Harper is one you can get over, but the next one isn’t as simple. She pretended that Riley was obsessed with her and that their relationship was one-sided, forcing Riley to be a punchline and the butt of jokes for the rest of her high school career. Similarly, when outed by Sloane at their Christmas Eve party in front of Abby, she denies it. She also decides to spend more time with her ex-boyfriend than Abby, who’s traveled all this way with an engagement ring. Stewart’s character deserved more. She deserved someone who was going to be all in with her from the beginning. Harper drags her girlfriend to visit her family for the holidays and then doesn’t spend any time with her. In short, the more time Harper spends on screen the more I hate her, and the movie’s about her, which is the problem.
Harper as a character is a horrible person and her presence clouded my experience of an otherwise great film. Scenes where she was absent were fun and lighthearted, but the moment she appeared, I was reminded of how much I disliked her in a way that can only be compared to the way one would dislike Delores Umbridge: totally, completely and fundamentally with no exceptions. Because it’s a Christmas movie, you can guess how it ends. While predictable and annoyingly sweet, it shouldn’t have happened. Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza’s characters should have ended up together, leaving Davis’s character alone and heartbroken. But we all know that can’t happen at Christmastime, so we are stuck with an infuriating and stereotypically heartwarming ending. This is not to say that I can’t see past Harper’s poor crisis management skills and utter spinelessness and appreciate the film for what it is—a beautiful family film that reminds all of us of the importance of representation in all aspects. It’s safe to say that there’s a character who needs a personality transplant, but the film is marvelous and I would recommend it if Mackenzie Davis’s character wasn’t a horrible person.