The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Holiday rom-coms are practically a genre of their own. They’ve always been the go-to for cheesy, slightly unrealistic, feel-good holiday cheer — but they’ve equally always been very heterosexual and, sometimes, downright problematic. Despite the recent growth of LGBTQIA+ representation in films, there haven’t been that many options for queer viewers who want to see themselves represented on screen but don’t want it rooted in the difficult and hard-to-swallow parts of discovering their identities, coming out, and existing within conservative and homophobic communities. Escapism in queer films is so important because it allows the community to engage with content they can personally relate to while providing a break – or like the word implies, escape – from the hardships that they already face. That’s why so many people, including myself, rejoiced when Happiest Season was announced: a fun Christmas film directed by the iconic Clea DuVall and starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper. They’re a gay couple visiting the family for the holidays, where hijinks are sure to ensue. Finally, I thought, the lighthearted gay content I’ve been waiting for! Which it was… almost.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. A few of the performances stood out to me – like Aubrey Plaza as Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley (who I’m sure we all fell in love with) and Schitt’s Creek fave Daniel Levy as Abby’s hilarious best friend John – and there were plenty of laugh-worthy and heartfelt moments to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I was fully invested throughout the entire movie. Like, ‘leaning into the screen, yelling at the characters as if they could hear me, gasping several times’ type of invested. But there’s one problem: Happiest Season wasn’t exactly the lighthearted film I was expecting.
The movie focuses on one main conflict: Harper invites Abby to spend Christmas with her family, but mentions last-minute that she hasn’t come out to them yet. They think she’s just bringing her roommate over to spend the holidays with them. Thus, for most of the film, Abby is basically forced back into the closet: attempting to navigate a lie she never really agreed to be a part of in the first place. Meanwhile, Harper is so focused on pleasing her extremely competitive family; and hiding her secret means she seldom takes Abby’s feelings into consideration. I found myself feeling bad for Abby, though part of me didn't want to acknowledge how miserable she was because I wanted to lean into the jovial and comedic moments.
Instead of being a fun escapist Christmas experience, I felt like Happiest Season ended up revolving around a sort of trauma that is unfortunately entrenched in the queer experience: feeling forced to hide our identities just to feel safe and accepted, and how we can end up hurting ourselves and those we love in the process because of the inner shame that grows over time.
Despite it all, I liked the movie! It had enough good moments and memorable lines that it still provided some quality content. The ensemble cast was nothing short of entertaining, with some comedic cameos throughout that are definitely worthwhile seeing. There were some scenes, like the one where Abby dines at a gay bar with another character while watching a drag performance, that I feel like showcased the best aspects of queer culture – in all its fun, uplifting, and unifying wonderfulness – and had me smiling the entire time. I also found that pretty much every character was well-rounded and complex, from their personalities down to how their struggles were presented, which helps the film open up a space for necessary discussions on the process of coming out, its different stages and layers, and the extent of the mental and emotional turmoil it can enact (no spoilers, but John’s monologue at the end had me tearing up). Happiest Season is not only a must-watch; it’s a necessary stepping stone that shows the potential of queer-centered narratives in commercial films — it even broke records for the most-watched original film on Hulu! It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Here’s to a possible Happiest Season sequel that focuses less on coming-out drama, and more on a cute gay couple discovering the true meaning of the holidays, or running a bakery together, or saving their small town from a big corporate monster threatening to ruin Christmas. You know, simple things.
Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.