Happiest Season arrives on Hulu like a present under the Christmas tree. The current health crisis has forced Sony to forgo a theatrical release that robs the film of its deserved mainstream attention. Still, instant streaming availability should prove very successful as this is snug viewing for the holidays.
The plot is rudimentary and typical studio fare. The tidiness of the screenplay and over-lit, white Hallmark aesthetic increases the potential for snark, but these traits are more welcoming than alienating. While complaints are understandable, director Clea DuVall is aware of these tropes, absolutely confident in the film she wants to make, and embraces the formula for all it is worth. Kristen Stewart gives her most assured and relaxed performance as Abby, girlfriend to Harper (a sterling Mackenzie Davis). Despite conflicting emotions regarding Christmas due to a family tragedy, Abby reluctantly agrees to escort the eager Harper home during the holiday to meet her parents for the first time. The problem is, Harper has not come out to her rather conservative family, leaving Abby astray and distant. Typical hijinks ensue, and we are given a parade of the colorful ensemble of characters. Standouts include the tremendously authentic Aubrey Plaza as the former girlfriend to Harper, who grows increasingly close to Abby and is aware Abby is hiding her true self. As Abby’s scene-stealing best friend, Dan Levy impressively anchors one of the film’s most breathtaking and powerful sequences– a harrowing monologue about the fear of coming out. There will not be a dry eye left in the house. DuVall handles these moments with unassuming and airy ease, taking a respectable backseat to the actors. An effervescent fight scene involving wrapping paper between Harper and her confrontational sister (Allison Brie) is a particular show-stopper.
While the film is broad and digestible, it is surprisingly grounded. The talky nature provides unexpected maturity and emotion. I found myself choked up and thoroughly captivated many times by the humanity and kindness on display. The poignant third act is a series of heartfelt revelations delivered with a passionate conviction culminating in crowd-pleasing catharsis. What could have easily been a very tacky and conforming film about love repackaged insincerely for mainstream audiences, Happiest Season is thankfully wholesome and warmly rewarding to the central relationship. It shines a sensitive light on a cinematically unrepresented and misrepresented group, letting the accessible love speak for itself. It’s a cozy film that wears its heart on its sleeve, offering specific insights and depths, brimming with reassuring honesty.