Directed by: Clea DuVall

Written by: Clea DuVall & Mary Holland

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Mary Holland

Rating: [4/5]

Meeting your partner’s loved ones comes with its own stressors because first impressions only come once. When entering the door, you will be measured up against every other person your partner has brought home and it’s ultimately a group of strangers you may be attached to hopefully forever. Plenty of pressure without considering the ultimately awkward and uncomfortable circumstances found in Happiest Season, which displays the pain of these characters along with beautifully touching moments. 

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) live together and the latter proposes that the former come with her to visit her family on Christmas. While initially hesitant, Abby decides to go with the hope to ask for Harper’s hand in marriage on Christmas Day. A perfectly romantic set up until Abby discovers Harper has not come out as a lesbian to her family yet. 

The experience of coming out as someone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum to one’s family is an individual and completely personal experience that comes with the potential for an expression of love, complete rejection, and everything in between. Abby has already experienced this fearful conversation but Harper has not because she fears the response of her family would land on the negative side. Certainly, a distressing revelation for Abby but it all plays into the emotional fortitude of this story and how so much hangs in the balance in what also serves as a warm Christmas story. 

With their relationship staying hidden while at the parent’s house, Abby needs to cover as just being Harper’s roommate until the appropriate time where Harper feels comfortable sharing the news. They need to sneak every kiss and loving touch so as to not give it away, which becomes difficult with the strange cast of characters making up Harper’s family. Her parents Ted (Victor Garber) and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) have their quirks as the former hopes to run for mayor and the latter has become obsessed with taking pictures for Instagram. Harper’s older sister, Sloane (Alison Brie) could not possibly be considered approachable and the other sister Jane (Mary Holland) is far too earnest for everyone around her. They comprise a family built on competition, which becomes a major focal point when getting into the familial dynamics influencing Harper’s decision to not show her true self to her loved ones. 

Things certainly get hurtful for Abby as she needs to put in this facade and make things up in order not to give away her true relationship with Harper. More gets divulged as the story progresses, including another girl, Riley, who secretly dated Harper in the past portrayed incredibly well by Aubrey Plaza. She comes in like a torpedo in each scene and commands the spotlight even with the limited words she says. Riley becomes integral to understanding the true issue with Harper’s dilemma and the true pain that can be caused by hiding this type of relationship from others. Plaza does so well with Riley that many might believe Abby should have ended up with her because of the electric chemistry they develop in their shared scenes. 

For anyone who still doubts the acting abilities of Kristen Stewart after her stint in Twilight just needs to admit their ignorance because she’s simply tremendous and proves it once again with her portrayal of Abby. She gets the most to do because she goes through this emotional roller coaster and everything impacts her with each lie Harper tells and how she tries to keep her composure during some harmful moments. These moments land with such ferocity because of the facial expressions Stewart effectively evokes, as she captures the impact of everything around her. The other incredible stand out proved to be Dan Levy, who begins his ascent in film after his breakout smash hit Schitt’s Creek. Levy has this uncanny ability of making me smile ear-to-ear whenever he appears on-screen and with the limited time he receives, he lays out some haymaker moments. One scene, in particular, in conversation with Abby, he lays out a truly eye-watering monologue many people in Abby’s situation need to hear. He delivers it with so much care and compassion. 

A loaded cast, indeed, with plenty of people sprinkling in their moments of heartwarming goop, Happiest Season delivers so many wonderfully touching scenes in a story where showing one’s true self and not competing for love come out as the biggest themes. The comedy works splendidly to provide those moments of levity, which only makes the highly emotional ones that much more impactful. One to enjoy with the whole family and a reminder to cherish all of the supportive people in life.

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