Happiest Season

 

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'Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, Don we now our gay apparel….

   

Happiest Season

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis 

 

Decembers past are littered with the ghosts of festive Hollywood comedies of toe-curling awfulness. Think Christmas with the Kranks (2004), Surviving Christmas (2004), Four Christmases (2008), Christmas with the Coopers (2015), A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)... There are a lot more. The commercial wisdom is that if Christmas is crammed into the title, any old tinsel will sell at the multiplex. Clea DuVall’s ironically monikered Happiest Season has all the ingredients to make one cringe. It’s Meet the Parents with Christmas lights, poinsettias and, set in Pittsburgh, there’s even a sprinkling of snow. The season is not so happy for Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis), who has to live up to her image as the perfect daughter of the snobbish, privileged, white, middle-class Ted Caldwell (Victor Garber) who is now running for mayoral office. For Ted, keeping up appearances is everything and he’s so proud of Harper’s insightful articles published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s less proud of Sloane (Alison Brie), who’s married to a black man and has twins, while Jane (Mary Holland) doesn’t even have a boyfriend. As Ted gears up for his electoral chances, this particular Christmas is something of a show of familial solidarity. For Harper, it’s going to be particularly tough as she’s invited along the love of her life, Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart), but hasn’t told anybody that she hasn’t told anybody she’s gay.

 

Mary Holland, who plays Jane, co-wrote the screenplay with another actress, Clea DuVall, and bonded with the latter during the creative process. DuVall, who is openly gay herself, and the director in charge, is a huge fan of romcoms and so-called “holiday movies,” but felt that her experience had never been reflected in either genre. Her screenplay follows familiar tropes, with a lesbian spin on the Meet the Parents template, with a strong whiff of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. DuVall’s ace card is the casting of Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as the star-cross’d lovers. Stewart, who has been dabbling with lighter material of late (the sci-fi Underwater, the knockabout Charlie's Angels), has been showing a brighter, more comic side to her persona. And Mackenzie Davis, so good in Tully and Terminator: Dark Fate, is an able match. In spite of the odd moment of misjudged slapstick and a somewhat ‘jokey’ score, Davis and Stewart create plausible characters that are instantly sympathetic. Then, as they are driving to Harper’s family home, the Get Out moment pops out. Harper hasn’t actually told her parents that Abby is her lover.

 

If the storyline is predictable, there are genuine laughs along the way. There are priceless supporting turns, particularly from Dan Levy (Schitt's Creek) as the token gay best friend (“Have they ever met a lesbian?”), Alison Brie as Harper’s brittle, straight-talking elder sister and Victor Garber as the patronising paterfamilias. And as various narrative booby traps are thrown into the path of the couple’s deception, the cracks begin to appear in their relationship. With Abby sequestered in a roomy closet downstairs, Harper perpetuates the lie that Abby is an orphan with nowhere else to stay for the holidays. In spite of her devotion to Abby, she is terrified of what her family will think. “I’m not hiding you,” she insists. “I am hiding me.” It is to Mary Holland and Clea DuVall’s credit that we end up caring about the fate of the pair, helped by the truthfulness that Stewart and Davis bring to their roles. If the slapstick is inevitable, the moving finale is an added bauble to top off the Christmas tree. As a romcom, it ticks all the right boxes, but with a resounding LGBT+ finish.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Mary Holland, Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Ana Gasteyer, Jake McDorman, Burl Moseley, Sarayu Blue, Timothy Simons, Lauren Lapkus.

 

Dir Clea DuVall, Pro Isaac Klausner and Marty Bowen, Screenplay Clea DuVall and Mary Holland, Ph John Guleserian, Pro Des Theresa Guleserian, Ed Melissa Bretherton, Music Amie Doherty, Costumes Kathleen Felix-Hager.

 

TriStar Pictures/Entertainment One/Temple Hill Entertainment/TriStar Productions-Entertainment One.

102 mins. USA/Canada. 2020. Rel: 26 November 2020. Available on all the usual streaming platforms. Cert. 12.