In the merry farce Happiest Season (★★★☆☆), Kristen Stewart seems squarely in her comfort zone. She plays Abby, a laidback, lovestruck lesbian whose uptight live-in girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), invites her to spend Christmas with her family.
That means both women will have to jump back inside the closet, since Harper hasn’t told her even more high-strung parents that she and Abby are a couple. In fact, Harper’s folks — Pittsburgh politico Ted (Victor Garber) and socialite Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) — have no idea she’s gay.
So, Ted and Tipper, along with the rest of their eccentric brood, welcome Harper’s “straight, orphan friend” Abby home for the holidays, as Happiest Season joins in a long tradition of dysfunctional family holiday flicks.
Directed and co-written by openly queer actor Clea DuVall, the movie distinguishes itself with snarky dialogue and a crack comic cast, from all-timers Garber, Steenburgen, and Ana Gasteyer, to Alison Brie and Mary Holland as Harper’s sisters, polar opposites Sloan and Jane.
Aubrey Plaza dials down the snark that’s her bread-and-butter to deliver a touching turn as Harper’s high school ex. And Schitt’s Creek Emmy-winner Dan Levy, as Abby’s bestie John, dials nothing down on his knack for zinging sarcastic asides and comebacks.
Despite all that personality at its center — and even cameos by Drag Race divas Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme — the film lacks personality and detail around the edges. Except for the secret lesbian hijinks (certainly notable for a studio romantic comedy), this is a blandly middle-of-the-road, upper-middle-class movie Christmas.
The soundtrack, for example, offers generically festive background tunes, rather than really buoyant holiday spirit. Starting with the cloying opening credits music, composer Amie Doherty’s sleighbell-saturated score sounds like a stroll through an empty mall, which matches the overall design of the production.
The script, written by DuVall and Holland, is sharp, although the plot does crank its gears contriving excuses for Harper and Abby to continue their straight girl charade. Coming out is never easy, but Harper’s stumbling march toward opening the closet door demands an excess of patience from her partner and the audience.
Mackenzie Davis doesn’t depict Harper’s cycle of self-doubt with much variety. The sympathetic character is struggling against a lifetime of being fed her parents’ strict diet of conservative family values, and we root for her to finally get through to them, while also wishing Abby would just move on, and go hang her holiday stockings somewhere happier.
Happiest Season is currently available for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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