Gooey, sentimental Richard Curtis movies are the template for this wannabe starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a romantically linked couple going back to Harper’s parents’ for Christmas.
Being a mainstream movie about homosexual love – Lesbians, Actually – these young women are not in-your-face dyke-on-a-bike Sapphics but nice young women who just want to be accepted for what they are. Neither is heroic – Abby’s parents are dead and so she never had to come out to them; Harper has never told her parents.
And that’s the hook on which this film hangs. Is Harper going to fess up and simultaneously re-apprise them of the identity of her “friend” Abby? Or are the parents going to find out anyway, in some French farce, whoops-there-go-my-panties kind of way, or otherwise?
There’s a lot of good stuff in this film – Stewart and Davis can do no wrong, nor Alison Brie, who plays Davis’s ice-bitch sister. Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen are reliably cosy as the parents obsessed with projecting the image of the perfect family against which the great unfolding is going to happen. On top of that Garber’s Ted is a local politico, so squeeze that fact for all the ironic juice it’ll yield when it comes to putting on a false front.
The screenplay is by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland, both of them better known for acting than writing. It’s competent enough, hits the beats, and knows how these things are structured, but it’s a timid beast so wary of giving offence that it ends up draining any dreg of personality out of Abby and Harper. Stewart (the toughie) and Davis (the sweetie) struggle to put flavour back in with biggish acting but they know there’s only so much they can do before things start to look ridiculous.
Holland also has an acting role, and Richard Curtis fans will be quietly mouthing the name of the late lamented Emma Chambers as Harper’s sister Jane (Holland) goes through a familiar set of giddy, dizzy, over-sharing, standing-on-one-foot ploys. She is, it must be said, very good at it, and provides the film – a comedy? – with some much appreciated laughs. Dan Levy’s doing something similar, and extremely well, as Abby’s gay best friend, who offers camp advice and an eye roll whenever the orthodox queer-eye-for-the-straight-audience viewpoint is needed.
Does Aubrey Plaza need to be in this film? Not really. And she’s got to be there as some sort of favour to someone involved, a bit more power to add to the left-field marquee. She plays Harper’s one-time hometown lover and has a few scenes with Stewart, all of which give off the vibe of a couple who don’t get on that well. Which is a bit of a problem because we’re meant to be half forming the idea that there is some romantic frisson between the two, aren’t we? (YouTube promo clips and interviews don’t back up this “don’t get on” theory, I must say, but something isn’t quite right – maybe they were just in a rush).
The imdb’s trivia page tells us that it’s based on DuVall’s experience, so I had a quick look at her wikipedia page. And there, in her entry under Personal Life are only four words: “DuVall is a lesbian.” Which seems like a rather thin way of describing someone.
And that’s the problem with Happiest Season. A lack of detail. Sill, there’s romance (a bit), laughs (a few) and drama (ish).
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© Steve Morrissey 2020