Phil's Quick Capsule Review

Happiest Season (2020): Review by Your Opinion Sucks

Happiest Season is good enough, and that, in of itself, is good enough. We’ve come a long way regarding representation and equality, but there’s still just as long a way left, and the LGBTQ themed love story has as much catching up to do as the tortoise did before the hare fell asleep during their infamous sprint. It’s not a “great” film on its own, I even suspect that, in years to come, gay people may look back on it and struggle to remember why it was considered so important. Historical significance has a bad habit of disappearing into the wind these modern times. But it remains very much a *good* film, and, considering what its existence means to the here and now, being any level of good – is great.
I was going to give it a 6 at first, because, strictly regarding its craftsmanship, it doesn’t have much to offer on the surface. The cinematography is basic (it looks like… well, a Christmas movie), and the writing isn’t what I’d call “sophisticated” – when it needs to relay important information it just goes straight for the exposition jugular and nothing else. HOWEVER, I can’t deny that the film deserves an extra helping of critical credit for daring to exist in the first place; it’s a same-sex love story at the centre of a full on genre flick!
This is why I hesitate to call its inclusion of every Christmas rom-com cliche you can think of as “genre trappings”. I get the sense that they are part of the film’s entire conception, as if director, Clea DuVall, pitched the film at the very beginning as a deliberately Hallmark-esque Christmas comedy with all the standard generic trimmings as the frosting. It’s like a joke – “let’s include all the usual cliches because of all the aforementioned catching up this kind of love story still has to do; we need to make up for lost time.” Or, in other words, this kind of film should’ve been made years ago and it knows it!
Christmas rom-coms have never ever been my thing – EVER! 99% of the time they look made for the world’s smallest television, and the stories repeat themselves more often than that guy from Goodfellas. But when a story of… love (*swallows vomit*) surrounds a couple whose romance could actually be in jeopardy for legitimate reasons, wouldn’t ya know it – I suddenly find myself caring. In all fairness, it could’ve been a love story between the family pets and I’d be more interested than in the usual boring hetro WASPS these films are always about.
Kristen Stewart plays Abby, an out and proud lesbian in a loving relationship with Harper, played by Mackenzie Davis. The holidays a’coming, Abby wants to propose on Christmas morning, and, in a moment of bliss, Harper asks her to come and spend Christmas with her and her family; her strange, conservative, dumbass family that doesn’t quite know that Harper is gay. Ah shit! Bring on the shenanigans! Abby finds herself back in the closet, pretending to be Harper’s roommate with no where else to go, and the relationship is put to a strenuous test that no straight rom-com couple could ever even imagine.
Happiest Season is an often sweet, regularly tragic little film, that, I thought, was quite lovely when it wanted to be. And, at other times, really rather upsetting. The stress of the holidays be dammed! This time the stakes are worth getting invested in; Romeo and Juliet thought their love hung by a thread because their parents hated each other – those suicidal shakespearean shit heads didn’t know nothin’! I enjoyed the film’s comedy, the performances, and found the more serious/not-so-funny territory very much earned and respectable.
Kristen Stewart conveys the sadness and frustration Abby increasingly feels, with keeping up the straight facade, so convincingly that even I started to get a little depressed. Mackenzie Davis covers a similar range, acting like a different person depending on who she’s interacting with, but with a more destructive outcome on the way if she’s not careful. Dan Levy, playing Abby’s gay best friend, John, comes close to stealing the show, Mary Holland (who co-wrote the film) is a riot as one of Harper’s sisters, and I can certainly see why everyone loves Aubrey Plaza so much after this.
One scene in particular caught me off guard with its intelligence and intent; when things get heated, John and Abby take a walk, and we get a reality check when John reminds Abby that no two coming-out stories are the same. I won’t say more but it was an appreciated reminder amongst all the cheerful Christmas nonsense, and a big indication that there are working brains behind this winter tale. That’s yet another thing that separates it from all the rest; most other holiday films are all about the escapism, this one is definitely not.
There were times I was less keen, I found some other characters, not in on the romance, to be quite insufferable. There are two small kids in the film that I absolutely hated, and Harper’s parents, played with undeniable zest by Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen, grew more and more infuriating and unlikable with every passing misunderstanding (almost every sequence – that I know is meant to be funny, but… nah). I’m sorry to report that this kind of irritation can overshadow the genuinely funny bits as easily as tripping on thin air, I’ve only watched the film once but I fear it may sully a future viewing.
It’s not nice, suddenly remembering how annoying something is after already experiencing it once, it’s like stubbing your toe on the same corner – TWICE. But anyway, in summary, Happiest Season doesn’t look like much at first glance, its filmmaking is basic, its script has its flaws and there are large portions that really got on my nerves (I think they were supposed to but still). That being said, the film still gets an enthusiastic recommendation because enough of the jokes are very funny, the cast absolutely crush it, the music is nicely tongue-in-cheek, and the fact that it exists: that alone is something special.
When it relaxes into lovey-dovey-wuviness, it gets really warm and sweet; and Abby’s character journey is extremely immersive and emotional. It’s a charming little romantic comedy that not only succeeds in the romance and comedy, but in its duty to the LGBTQ love story. Its existence matters, and will hopefully pave a nice fresh yellow brick road to bigger and better things as we dance up the path of loving acceptance. Merry-bloody-Christmas!
Oh yes, and Ben Shapiro is a cunt, there, that felt good.



7 out of 10 stars


Your Opinion Sucks

What’s the difference between a film critic and a film maker? A film maker actually knows when to shut up, which certainly explains my big mouth.

Partial to the weird and the grotesque, James is a wannabe filmmaker and actor, who got lucky and allowed to review some pictures, the Donnie in Will and Phil’s bowling team, forever on a quest flex the truth... that your opinion sucks!