Many of us in the queer community have a holiday coming out story . . . or even a few. During Hanukkah 2012, I told my maternal grandmother that like Santana Lopez on Glee, I wanted to date girls. And on Christmas Day in 2014, I shared with my paternal grandmother, “I like girls,” to which she responded, “Don’t you want to get married?”
For better or for worse, we’ve all been there. And rarely do we see these stories portrayed in mainstream media, especially films. But premiering November 25 on Hulu, out lesbian Clea Duvall’s romantic comedy Happiest Season fills that void and does it with a queer audience in mind.
Happiest Season stars Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as Harper, a lesbian couple returning to Harper’s hometown for Christmas. Within the first five minutes of the film, Harper and Abby are making out, which is refreshing given the long list of LGBTQ movies that feature a slow burn or a forbidden romance. However, with this film, Abby and Harper are an established couple, and they’re absolutely adorable, especially when Harper says to Abby: “I want to wake up with you on Christmas morning.” However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as the audience (and Abby) quickly find out that Harper is not yet out to her family. In fact, she doesn’t plan to come out to them until after Christmas.
Harper’s family features a slew of famous actors in well-developed comedic roles: Her stoic father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor. Her mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is overbearing yet endearing, as she tries to capture every moment of the holiday for her husband’s mayoral campaign on Instagram. Harper also has two sisters: the kooky and eager-to-please Jane (Mary Holland, co-writer) and the uptight and competitive Sloane (Alison Brie).
The film is extremely well-cast, and it’s not just because Davis, Holland, and Brie look like they could actually be sisters. Instead, what I appreciate most about Happiest Season is that it features out LGBTQ actors in queer roles. Dan Levy plays Abby’s friend John, in a twist on the typical gay best friend trope. And you can tell his part was written by a queer person for a queer person. At the beginning of the film, John tells Abby that marriage is one of the “most archaic institutions in the history of the human race,” akin to “trapping [your girlfriend] into a box of heteronormativity and trying to make her your property.”
Similarly, out actress Aubrey Plaza stars as Harper’s ex, and shares a great scene with Abby in a drag queen bar. Stewart, too, shines in her portrayal as Abby. She sings, she cries, she kisses a girl, she gets framed for stealing, and she wears an amazing suit. Stewart brings an authenticity to this role like I’ve never seen her do before. It reminds me why it’s so important to have queer people play LGBTQ roles.
All in all, Duvall does a great job capturing the queer experience, from several jokes about being in the closet to a soundtrack filled with LGBTQ artists including Tegan & Sara, LP, Carlie Hanson, Shea Diamond, and Brandy Clark.
If you’re looking for a holiday film to bring you some cheer this year, Happiest Season should be on your list.
For more LGBTQ holiday films, check out Tagg Magazine’s recent feature, “10 LGBTQ Holiday Films You Should Know.”