Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Movie with Abe: Happiest Season

Happiest Season
Directed by Clea DuVall
Released November 25, 2020 (Hulu)

Coming home for the holidays is something that many people won’t do this year, which is sure to be difficult and will only increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. For many, that time is normally one filled with positive reunions and the chance to return to the closest thing resembling childhood. For others, however, it may not be such a warm experience and come with a good deal of apprehension. People change and grow up when they move away, and returning to a formative place may represent an unwanted regression and engagement with memories and people that aren’t quite so comforting.

Abby (Kristen Stewart) accepts an invitation from her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) to come meet her family for Christmas despite her tradition of not doing anything special for the holiday since her parents died. She only learns on the way to Harper’s family’s home that she isn’t actually out, meaning that she’ll have to pretend to be her roommate. The experience only gets more intense as she is introduced to Harper’s overbearing mother (Mary Steenburgen), detached politician father (Victor Garber), eager sister Jane (Mary Holland), and ice-cold sister Sloane (Alison Brie), who all seem to turn Harper into a different person than the one Abby knows.

This film takes a moderately conventional premise - the dreaded prospect of meeting a partner’s judgmental family over the holidays – and smartly incorporates the lesbian aspect of the story. Abby’s gay best friend John (Dan Levy) incredulously asks if Harper’s parents have ever met a lesbian when he hears that she has to pretend to be straight, but it says much more about their obliviousness than anything else, since they wouldn’t even bother to think that Harper might be romantically interested in a woman. That they wouldn’t approve isn’t even guaranteed, but Harper has obviously been made to feel that any deviation from normalcy is cause for shame, and she hides part of herself as a result as a protective mechanism.

It’s great to see a high-profile film like this feature a romance that isn’t heterosexual in a perfectly normal way that isn’t exaggerated or played up for basic comedy purposes. Actress Clea DuVall co-writes and directs her second feature film, which is a fully engaging and entertaining look at the standards people hold others to and the acts they put on to cope with them. This is a fitting role for Stewart, who shares the screen generously with the rest of the cast. Davis handles the complexities of Harper’s character well and still makes her likeable, while Aubrey Plaza stands out in a supporting role as Harper’s ex-girlfriend. There are funny moments throughout this enjoyable ensemble comedy, one that should make a great watch for any holiday.


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