Happiest Season – Review

Cert – 12, Run time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Clea DuVall

Abby (Kristen Stewart) is visiting her girlfriend Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) family for Christmas. However, Harper’s family don’t know that she’s gay.

Nerves often rise when it comes to meeting a partner’s parents. However, for Abby (Kristen Stewart) her nerves stem from somewhere else. Initially she’s calm and relaxed when her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invites her round for Christmas, to prevent her from spending it alone. However, on the journey to her family’s large, quiet home Harper reveals that her parents don’t know that she’s gay, and she doesn’t plan on telling them for a few more days. Her father (Victor Garber) is running for mayor, and any alleged rifts or controversies within his family could damage his campaign, especially at this festive time of year when everyone’s meant to be united. This family’s unity is something that all should witness, as his wife (Mary Steenburgen) seems to live by, documenting everything on Instagram; frustrated that she can’t get the perfect family photo.

The family, while trying to look perfect at various festive gatherings, seems far from it. They’re each distanced with their individual secrets and behaviours. Alison Brie’s Sloane tries to show her perfect family lifestyle and business success, but is often told by her parents to simply stand to the side and mingle. Meanwhile other sister Jane (Mary Holland – who also acts as co-writer with director Clea DuVall) allows her mind and energetic nature to often carry her away – when she’s not working on an extensive fantasy novel, often telling others of the various layers and details which it holds, making for a rather amusing running joke. Jane feels almost excluded from the rest of the family and simply wants to get some form of attention, or rather recognition; especially with more people in the house for Christmas this year. What is meant to be the happiest season turns out to be a rather stressful one of twists and secrets for everyone.

Harper and Abby’s relationship is tested as they try to keep it a secret, Abby herself living on a lie of being straight. However, things truly heat-up when ex-boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman) arrives on the scene, still with feelings for Harper; which her parents support, thinking that they’re relationship would be good for the campaign and general look of the family to potential voters. Throw in the figure of Riley (Aubrey Plaza), someone clearly key to Harper’s past, although the relationship of which is ambiguous to Abby, and there’s a swirling pot of potential rifts and clashes. Throughout the film Stewart’s protagonist becomes increasingly uncomfortable with hiding herself, and seeing her partner do the same thing. She was planning on proposing on Christmas Day, but with her plans thrown into the air, and at times thrown aside as the people she was invited to spend the festive season with seem to be more concerned with publicity than anything else.

As this happens Riley becomes more of a recurring presence, Abby bumping into her in the street while shopping and simply spending the evening with her. There’s good chemistry between them, however you still feel the strong central relationship of Stewart and Davis which truly sells the piece. Even as the opening credits depict various different holiday scenes and their relationship growing through Christmas card style drawings you’re set up and ready to go, believing the authenticity of this relationship. From there the film settles you in, assuring you that there is a good time to be had over the next 100 minutes or so. There are a couple of chuckles along the way, never really at the expense of any of the characters or the situations that they find themselves in, and it wraps up rather nicely. Admittedly, some elements of the narrative do feel somewhat predictable, or at least as if you can roughly guess where they’re going, but for the most part that doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the film. Hooking you early on with the central relationship, brought to life by two enjoyable central performances, and introducing you to an equally good supporting cast. Relationships and chemistry click, allowing for the laughs to be brought in and by the end it’s all been a rather good Christmas rom-com.

There are some points where you feel you know where Happiest Season is going, but there are also some pleasant surprises along the way. The central relationship clicks and works, bringing you in for an enjoyable time with some equally engaging supporting characters for a nice, mild festive feature.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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