The yearly flood of Christmas films is always precarious to wade through. There’s a content blast resembling a typhoon, a storm of films arriving all at once, and gone before there is time for thoughtful reflection about them. They count on one thing, families coming together around the TV, and requiring a certain mass of new quantities to watch, every single year. And so, it’s a business, a facet of the most consumerist holiday of all. Where, through the history of television and movies, there are a selection of plucky yuletide favorites, many aimed perilously toward youthful audiences, there are few reigning examples of gleefully rewatchable LGBT Christmas fables. There is, on the artistic side, the prime example of 2015’s Carol, a Todd Haynes film that is several magnitudes greater than most all-season fare. But specifically, films born of Christmas, have not provided a casual and wholly winning example of everything a joyous, LGBT Christmas movie can be. Not only does Happiest Season fill a deeply desired niche but it does so with great care and consideration for the needs of the community it celebrates.
Short of a Christmas miracle, the film is at least a divine intervention on the format of the holiday romcom. There is something to it. Making a roughly prototypical Hallmark movie, but then making clever turns at every place where those would ordinarily become complacent. It is not a cloying or empty turn at representation, either. Clea DuVall proves as charming as a director as she is an actor. Thanks to a dream cast, the whole project ought to lift the spirits of even the most resigned holiday grinches. It all comes down to the leads, who give spirited and compassionate performances, lifting the film out of the ruts of winter complacency.
The story is a pretty typical one. A couple goes home for the holidays. Abby (Kristin Stewart) wants to propose to her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis), and here’s where it’s well considered, Harper’s family does not know about their relationship, and are amidst a big political campaign where their family image is front and center. To navigate a coming out story properly requires grace and tact, which the film has in equal measure. It’s a credit to the supporting cast, especially Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Schitt’s Creek‘s Dan Levy (is this just a list of your current favorites, too, dear reader?) that the picture lands all of its material with credibility and well-executed dramatic interest.
Everyone deserves a good Christmas film. The idea of making one with the requisite cheese and surface conventionality for an underserved community ends up being the perfect pitch for this romcom. It knows that it lives within the tradition of these things. “Way to stick it to the patriarchy,” Dan Levy’s character says, the film knows where it exists within its privilege, how asking your partner’s Dad for their hand in marriage is such an archaic practice, that could otherwise fulfill normative beliefs. Happiest Season takes all of those ideas and then makes something perfectly pleasant and different with them.