Once in a while a holiday movie comes along that fits the tone of the country and what it wants from a Christmas flick.
Hulu is broadcasting Happiest Season and besides having a stellar cast, it has a strong message for today’s day and age.
After all, there is a legion of folks who still have parents that may not be thrilled that they seek to come out of the closet.
Family and the pressures of the holidays is nothing new to the cinematic landscape. But what is provided in writer-director Clea DuVall’s joyous journey is wildly unique and will pull heartstrings and emit hilarity as well.
Happiest Season stars Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as Harper. The pair have been dating for almost a year and are getting more and more serious as the calendar whips by—currently, they are living together.
In a moment filled with a tsunami of pure and utter adoration, Harper invites her girlfriend (whose parents perished when she was 19) to her home for Christmas.
What she didn’t take into consideration is that her family does not know she is gay. In fact, her father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor and he and her mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) are throwing a series of parties to kick off the campaign.
It’s not that he is anti-gay, but Harper knows that growing up in their household, perfection was celebrated. In fact, there is an inherent competition between the sisters that exist to this day.
Allison Brie (Community) is Sloane and Jane is portrayed by Mary Holland. The trio seem to be constantly in battle over their parents affections. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is love that permeates this house. Nothing is nefarious and family is everything.
It’s just that the parents disdain for certain issues makes clear their sentiment about a slew of things.
For example, Sloane graduated at the top of her law school class and was on track to be partner at her law firm when she decided to walk away and start a gift basket business with her husband, Eric (Burl Moseley).
When the couple and their twins arrive at the family homestead for the holidays, that career change gets brought up insensitively.
Harper convinces Abby to just play along for the holidays and as soon as the Christmas craziness is over, she will come out to her parents.
Not one minute sooner. Abby reluctantly agrees and a zany and wild physical and emotional laced comedy progresses in a pitch perfect manner.
Happiest Season also stars Dan Levy (of Schitt’s Creek’s fame) as Abby’s gay best friend, who helps her navigate this minefield from afar. That is, until he feels it’s gotten too maddening for his BFF and he drives to Harper’s house to “save Abby.”
The entire cast is incredible.
Every single soul knows exactly what movie they are in, that is not always the case. Each member of the ensemble gets their moment to shine, some more than others—obviously, the leads.
But this cinematic family feels like a bonded bunch with decades of closeness and love, even with two parents whose perfection pressures may overwhelm most kids.
Stewart is otherworldly. She embraces comedy like a pro and handles the dramatic weight with a heart of gold that is understanding but will only be pushed too far.
Many of her scenes with Sloane (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Rec) bring out some of the background of the Abby character. The exposition is done impeccably and fills out the character while simultaneously moving the dramatic narrative of this holiday comedy along.
See, Sloane is Harper’s ex-girlfriend from high school—someone she ditched on a dime when it became clear that people were starting to talk.
Duvall has crafted a holiday foible that is firmly for our times. It reflects the America that we aspire to be and in all honestly, are hopefully moving ever closer to achieving. Her comedy sensibilities are real and raw, and never stray from the sentiment established by the film’s early moments.
The writer-director has a message, and it is not one that hits audiences over the head. Instead, it is told with comedy, compassion and above all else, the most human of qualities-empathy.
There’s a supporting cast that is just sensational led by Brie. Her competitive nature is downright fierce and unapologetically aggressive. Holland’s youngest (and sadly disrespected sister) is often the bright light of some humorously tense scenes.
She tries so hard; it’s pulls the heart strings and also adds layers to the familial comedy.
Steenburgen, as Levy says in the film, is fabulous. When isn’t she? Her and Garber are a match made in movie heaven.
The Alias actor is the perfect father, to a fault. He plays it with such warmth, though, that he is always compelling, appealing and someone who one can see why his daughters claw hand over fist to please.
Levy, who gives us a turn that will warm your cockles, knows his part, and plays it to perfection.
There’s a scene that is pure gold that makes Happiest Season turn on a dime towards an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
It involves Levy digging deep in a one-on-one with Stewart and it will just make you want to cry, or at least mist up. It encapsulates the “coming out” experience and its vast chasm of possibilities for each individual person in a succinct, emotively riveting moment of pure bliss.
It is the single greatest heartbeat of the entire movie and it is brilliance incarnate.
Happiest Season might not be the best Christmas movie ever made, but it never tries to be that.
Instead, it is a slice of life, circa 2020, and for those seeking a family-centric holiday movie that will make you laugh, cry, and want to hop on the phone and call your clan, Hulu has it.
Happiest Season debuts on Hulu on November 25.
Joel D. Amos is the Senior Editor of The Movie Mensch and writes film reviews for TV Fanatic. He has been an entertainment journalist for two decades now, focusing on penning reviews for film, television and streaming content of all kinds. He also has conducted hundreds of interviews with stars as varied as Harrison Ford to Elton John and Angelina Jolie. Joel is a founding member of the Hollywood Critics Association and in his free time, is all about his family.