REVIEW: Hulu’s Happiest Season

Happiest Season poster

Hulu’s Happiest Season manages to adhere to the standard romcom and holiday movie tropes while also defying them and delivering a heartwarming and sometimes heartwrenching story about learning to accept yourself. While undeniably still an enjoyable treat, this film is also far more substantial than the usual holiday fare.

Happiest Season coupleAbby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are deeply in love and very happy with their life together. When Harper invites Abby to spend Christmas with her family, the latter is excited to finally meet her beloved’s loved ones. But things get complicated when Harper admits that she never told her family she was a lesbian and because she fears jeopardizing her father’s mayoral campaign, she only intends to tell them the truth after the holidays. So the story is that Abby is her orphan roommate who has nowhere else to go at Christmas.

Abby goes along with ruse at first as she gets to know Harper’s family: straitlaced father Ted (Victor Garber), charming mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), eldest sister and Harper’s rival for her parent’s affection, Sloane (Alison Brie),  and the neglected but kindhearted sister, Jane (Mary Holland). Abby is a curious witness to the family’s dysfunction, the accumulated resentments, both petty and profound, and the very different person Harper chooses to be when around her family and in her hometown.

The entire family is committed to maintaining a seemingly pristine, conservative reputation but as the festivities progress, more and more cracks begin to show beneath the surface. And when eventually all hell breaks loose, the family are forced to confront the lies they have been telling each other and themselves and what the years of deception and self-denial have ultimately cost them.

Director and screenwriter Clea Duvall (Veep, Broad City) must be applauded for elevating the holiday movie genre with Happiest Season not just by portraying a central LGBTQ relationship but also by accurately depicting the complex tensions and conflicts that pervade every family. As eccentric as the film sometimes gets, so much of it is relatable and characteristic of this universal emotional challenge of going home for the holidays.

Happiest Season familyHappiest Season boasts of an all-star cast who all give compelling performances. It’s also a testament to the strength of the writing that each character is well-drawn and three-dimensional, and you are able to see different nuances to them all in the span of one film.

Stewart plays Abby with earnestness and heart though she also functions as the audience surrogate and she does spend most of the film reacting to Harper’s toxic family. Davis is excellent at portraying a character who becomes quite difficult to love as more is revealed of her past but who also deserves some understanding for having grown up in an environment where she knew being who she truly was would not be accepted. Holland stands out as being the one ray of sunshine in a family full of miserable people.

Another standout is Aubrey Plaza as Harper’s ex-girlfriend, Riley, who becomes a kindred spirit to Abby. Plaza and Stewart have such chemistry with one another that many fans of Happiest Season actually wanted them to end up together. But Duvall defended Harper’s character and says that her struggles with her sexuality might be similar experiences for many.

Dan Levy is delightful as John, Abby’s friend, and for the most part Levy pretty much just plays himself or at least a version of his iconic Schitt’s Creek character David Rose. But he does get a memorable, tear-jerking conversation with Abby towards the end of the film where he shares his difficult experience coming out to his family. This pivotal scene not only fleshes out his character but also allows for the audience to have more sympathy for Harper during her traumatic coming out scene.

As subversive as Happiest Season was, the film still stuck to the holiday/rom-com staple of a happy ending. It was slightly disappointing and not very realistic to have the main conflict between Abby and Harper resolved so quickly and so easily, but Christmas is the season of reconciliation. And at the end of the day, this film still belongs to the genre that requires audiences to suspend their disbelief a bit more than usual. All’s well that ends well.

And frankly, after the crazy year that we’ve all had, a fluffy, happy ending is just what we need.

Happiest Season is streaming now on Hulu.

Check out the trailer below: