Like nestling in a cozy blanket on a winter’s day, Christmas films offer a comforting celebration of Yuletide traditions. The great offerings are remembered as iconic holiday staples (A Christmas Story and Elf), while even the cheesy, Lifetime-esque films hold their own guilty pleasure appeal. The latest in the subgenre Happiest Season imbues its traditional formula with a thoughtful lens, with writer/director Clea DuVall crafting an earnest celebration of the seasonal values
Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a happy couple who looks forward to celebrating their first Christmas together. When the two travel to Harper’s family (parents played by Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen), Abby learns that her partner has yet to reveal her sexuality to her parents. Their relationship is put to the test as they’re run through the gauntlet of Yuletide celebrations.
Like all great romantic comedies, Happiest Season boasts a winning ensemble cast. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis are an effervescent onscreen pair. Stewart’s subdued, yet deft comedic hand matches perfectly with Davis’ bright onscreen presence, allowing the two to morph their archetype characters into lived-in personas. The stacked supporting cast also has a blast throughout the production, with Dan Levy, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen, and Mary Holland (who also co-wrote the script) delivering movie star charisma.
The inclusive sensibility behind Happiest Season‘s LGBTQ identity is commendable, yet it would mean very little if the subject matter wasn’t handled with a genuine eye. DuVall proves she’s the right voice to tell this story, articulating intimate nuances behind Abby and Harper’s relationship dynamic. Both characters are written from an empathetic perspective, with Abby’s frustration for an open-book lifestyle clashing with Harper’s personal insecurities without judgment towards either side. This choice imbues the typically mawkish rom-com conflict with a refreshing dose of reality, allocating genuine steaks for audiences to invest in.
That isn’t to discredit Happiest Season’s allures as a romantic comedy, with DuVall and company lovingly leaning into the genre’s well-known framework. DuVall’s sensible style handles the set-up’s innate zaniness without getting too cartoon-y, re-packaging the typically artificial business for a more self-assured comedic voice. The laughs here register without vying desperately for the audience’s attention. DuVall’s handling of the traditional rom-com plot beats is similarly well-tuned. There’s a self-awareness streak that never feels overly-sly, as everyone involved seems well-versed in what makes these genre moments sing.
Happiest Season renders an infectiously warm glow, eliciting the kind of sweatpants-level comfort that turns films of this ilk into beloved staples.
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