Every year, fans of the holiday season are overloaded with Christmas-themed romantic comedies from Hallmark and now Netflix, but we typically only see one or two a year with a star-studded cast (only Last Christmas comes to mind for 2019) and we certainly never get one with gay leads. That's what makes Happiest Season such a big deal. On one hand, the bar is set pretty high for this film, considering the cast, but it's also set low when you account for how rare it is to see rom-coms about a lesbian couple. We're relieved to report the film is infinitely better than the made-for-tv movies of the same genre. In fact, it will likely join the ranks of modern classics like The Holiday, Love Actually, and The Family Stone in terms of yearly rewatchability. While it can be hard, at times, to root for the main couple, played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, any flaws with the film are simply overshadowed by the fact that we've been starved for LGBTQ+ content that's not all doom and gloom.
The film follows Abby (Stewart) as she meets her girlfriend Harper's (Davis) family for the first time over Christmas. Unfortunately, Abby learns on the way there that Harper isn't out and that they must pretend to be straight roommates. You will likely see some complaints online about Happiest Season being a coming-out story. Many LGBTQ+ folks have said for years that they'd like to see more films progress past focusing on that stage in a queer person's life, but considering this movie is paving the way for the gay holiday rom-com genre, it feels like a genuine and fine place to start. The movie's mainstream appeal could be inspiring to those afraid to come out and might even be helpful for parents struggling with acceptance. And, in this case, the movie is inspired by director/co-writer Clea DuVall's experiences, so it's hard to harp on her choice of narrative.
That being said, sometimes it is difficult to root for Abby and Harper because of the web of lies Harper drags her girlfriend into. Not only does she lie to her family about being gay, but we learn there are also things she's kept from Abby during their relationship. We can't help but spend most of the movie thinking Abby deserves better, especially with Aubrey Plaza's flawless Riley hanging around. However, your ongoing annoyance with Harper's decisions will melt away as you bask in the witty script and joyous performances.
Stewart continues to prove her range, leading the film with depth and honesty, and even when you're not rooting for Harper, you're admiring Davis' conflicted portrayal of the character. Schitt's Creek alum Dan Levy is hilarious as Abby's best friend, John, but it's co-writer Mary Holland's performance as Harper's eager middle sister, Jane, that will keep you cackling (and occasionally crying). It's also a delight to watch Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen play Harper's parents, and Alison Brie delivers (as always) as Harper's vicious eldest sister, Sloane. There's no role in the movie that feels unnecessary or unfunny. Even Sloan's children, played by Asiyih and Anis N'Dobe, are a uniquely macabre pair whose dry performances are much different from your typical holiday movie children.
As far as romantic comedies go, Happiest Season will surely please hardcore fans of the genre as well as anyone starved for a light-hearted, gay romance. With any luck, this film will be the first of many LGBTQ+ rom-coms, but for now, it's a delightful place to start.
Rating: 4 out of 5