This review contains spoilers, but it is a Christmas movie so it follows a predictable formula.
Happiest Season is one of the first LGBTQ+ Christmas films, especially one released on a large streaming platform like Hulu. Kristen Stewart plays Abby, who has been out for years. Her parents were loving and supportive when she came out to them. Sadly, they died several years ago. Mackenzie Davis plays Harper, Abby’s girlfriend from a local political family. On a trip to Harper’s parents' house for Christmas, we find out that Harper has not come out to her parents despite telling Abby she had earlier that year.
The film walks us through internal family struggles as Harper’s father is running for mayor. We get introduced to Harper’s last boyfriend and first girlfriend; Connor played by Jake McDorman and Riley played by Aubrey Plaza. You may recognize Jake McDorman from his recent role as Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff series on Disney+. Harper is the middle of three sisters. Alison Brie plays the older sister Sloane in a biracial marriage with twins. Jane, the youngest sister is played by Mary Holland.
The family is highly dysfunctional, but it is all hidden under the thinnest of veneers. The parents are upset that Sloane dropped out of the partner track at a law firm to make gift baskets with her husband, who was third in his law school class at Yale. The gift baskets are brought up repeatedly and you can see the tension between the parents and Sloane. Sloane’s children are mildly terrifying and would fit well into a horror film. There is more going on in Sloane’s life than ever gets revealed. Whose idea was it to fully commit to making gift baskets?
The parents do not trust Jane. She is a strange combination of a free spirit and an emotionally stunted adult. I think she was kept in the movie to be a joke, but it feels mean to laugh at her for trying desperately to gain respect.
The worst person by far is Harper. She does not deserve Abby, yet she seems to have trapped her by way of a dependency and seeking validation from someone else because her parents did not accept her as she was. Abby forms a friendship with Riley, and we get more of a backstory to further demonstrate how horrible Harper is. Dan Levy plays John, Abby’s closest friend, and even he recognizes how horrible Harper is. For someone that describes herself as a lesbian and not bi-sexual, Harper does a great job of pretending to still be romantically interested in her high school boyfriend Connor. Harper spends more time with Connor throughout the movie than with Abby.
The biggest sin committed in this movie is following the Christmas movie trope of having a happy ending. Christmas is a stressful and unhappy time for many people. There are huge expectations placed on all of us and it can be hard to deal with when everything you see tells you to be happy and enjoy the best part of the year. Abby has multiple outs from her relationship with Harper. She takes a few of them but keeps getting dragged back in. Every time Abby leaves you root for her. Harper’s final plea to give it another chance is too little too late for me, but it worked on Abby. The movie would have been more realistic had it ended five minutes sooner with Harper and Abby ending their relationship. This is a step in the right direction to broaden the inclusivity in holiday films, I just wish I was rooting for the ending.