The modern holiday movie is defined by the mass produced, ratings grabbing and money making Hallmark formula: a Christmas crisis, a tortured couple, a happy ending. But Hulu shakes things up this year with Happiest Season, and two things make this standout from its Hallmark brethren: an amazingly all-star cast and the tortured couple in question are lesbians.
Christmas in the Closet
Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are a couple in love, living together, and navigating the holidays. Abby’s not a fan, as she lost her parents a decade earlier. Harper loves this time of year and, in a fit of seasonal shortsightedness, invites Abby to come home with her for Christmas.
On the long drive, Harper confesses that she didn’t tell her parents she’s gay, and begs Abby to play along and play straight. She agrees and is welcomed as Harper’s roommate.
From there, Harper’s mom, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is focused on a perfect looking Christmas, snapping everything for an Instagram account supporting her husband Ted’s (Victor Garber) run for mayor. Throw in long-simmering sibling rivalries, some matchmaking by Mom, and a feeling of invisibility for Abby and you have a made-for-TV Christmas Crisis!
What makes this story different than the cookie cutter offerings from Hallmark et al is that the central couple is gay. Their connection, their chemistry, their struggles come across as very genuine. Sadly, the rest of the family is confined to stereotypes, not just the one-dimensional Christmas movie characters, but gay stereotypes.
Whispering about the shame the family of the town lesbian, Riley (Aubrey Plaza) must feel? It’s like the 1970s are back.
Not questioning a daughter having a roommate in a one bedroom apartment? In her 30s? It’s like the 1980s are back.
A campaign manager devising a don’t ask don’t tell policy for the ‘scandalous secret’? It’s like the 1990s are back.
And I get that there are many families in far too many places that are like this. However Harper’s family isn’t that dark, and the clueless homophobia is presented as a necessity for keeping up appearances. So on this level, the film has a glaring disconnect. But, like a Christmas miracle, it all comes around in the end.
The Christmas Stars
Happiest Season has a message of inclusivity and love, even though it goes really dark before the light at the end of the tunnel. And getting this message across is a truly all star cast. Kristen, Mary, Plaza, and Davis are also joined by Alison Brie as a sister and Dan Levy as Abby’s confidant. This talented of a crew is unheard of for a ‘simple’ Christmas movie, and their presence elevates its importance. I only wish they had been able to get out of the way of the scripts inconsistencies. Example: constantly calling Abby an orphan and thinking she never had a family Christmas, despite Abby reminding them she lost her parents at 19.
That said, I believe this is a solid addition to your holiday movie queue. The people are good at heart and, let’s face it, we don’t watch made-for-TV holiday movies for deep, well drawn characters. We watch to get a lump in our throats and a secret, hidden tear in our eye. On that level, Happiest Season delivers like Santa.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Now, grab a tissue and the eggnog. I’m spiking mine with a Christmas-sized portion of dark rum and a little whipped cream on top.
Cheers & Merry Christmas!