Every year as the spooks and scares of Halloween begin to fade with the first light on November 1, I mentally prepare myself for the holiday season. I must admit I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas. I don’t hate it, and there’s nothing innately wrong with the holiday. I love getting together with friends and family during the holiday season to share love and happiness, as well as gifts. But whether it’s the holiday music, Hallmark films about crabby ladies and optimistic lumberjacks, or weird Kirkland commercials I won’t even begin to unpack right now, I’ve never seen myself reflected in the commercialization of the holidays.
While I’m sure The Princess Swap is a great movie, there’s only so much heteronormativity I can take before it becomes too much. This is especially true during the holidays when all I want is a warm cup of cocoa and a cute, cheesy LGBTQ+ movie to watch with my girlfriend.
The pessimism always sits heavy in my chest as the weather starts to cool, so this year I tried to have a positive outlook — after all, 2020 doesn’t need any more negativity. But with every replay of Santa Baby and then the news that Netflix has it’s own Christmas universe, I was getting doubtful. That is until my holiday season was thrown on its head with the trailer for Happiest Season.
The film follows girlfriends Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) as they navigate going home to Harper’s family for the holidays. Hilarity (obviously) ensues. Harper isn’t out to her parents yet. Abby is the most awkward “straight-roommate-orphan-friend.” There is no privacy in a house full of family.
Now, before you start with your, “But Evyn, why are we praising an LGBTQ+ movie about coming out, aren’t there enough of those?” comments, hear me out.
Typically, I would roll my eyes at a movie where people have to, as Daniel Levy’s character says, “hide their authentic selves,” but this time I was crying too much. Yes, a big conflict revolves around Harper not being out to her family yet. But, unlike most narratives, the focus isn’t saddled on the character’s sexuality. It’s on being true to yourself, regardless of who you are.
Happiest Season highlights how toxic a familial view of total perfection can be. We see Harper as the golden child — the only one who has done everything right in her parent’s eyes, and the strain that puts on her coming out. We see Sloane — the eldest daughter who quit practicing law to raise her kids — struggling to uphold this idea of being “Super Mom” when she’s filing for divorce. And Jane, the middle child who was free of the pressure of having to be something and loves herself despite her family’s annoyance towards her. Of course, their parents have their own issues that are revealed, and the audience realizes that as much as it’s a movie about embracing sexuality, it’s also about understanding.
For once, a movie revolving around the holidays reflected something I could relate to. I grew up in a family that cared tremendously about outside perceptions. Growing up in small towns forced me to compartmentalize my true nonbinary lesbian self and, sometimes, when I return home, I fall into old patterns. The struggle Harper faces rang true to me the way it did to many other people; there’s always the nagging question in the back of my mind: which one is the real me?
Aubrey Plaza’s character, Riley, lets us in on a little secret — one that dropped in my chest and filled me with warmth in a way only pure recognition could. Despite hometowns and upbringings and versions of ourselves that exist hundreds of miles away from our childhood home, both versions — every version and all versions — of ourselves are the true ones. You aren’t any less you in harder circumstances.
And all this to say that I really enjoyed watching women in suits for an hour and a half. I jest, but what director and writer Clea DuVall could’ve made into a cheesy movie about Christmas spirit, she made raw and real. The recognition of painful LGBTQ+ experiences that end well on the big screen is just as important as the ones that don’t.
As the lovely Kristen Stewart said, “this heartwarming, slightly stressful and manic Christmas movie” is now streaming on Hulu.