Representation for queer women is still severely lacking in TV and movies. We get the occasional character, but rarely do we get to be the main characters. That’s why there was so much excitement for Happiest Season, Clea Duvall’s holiday rom-com featuring main characters who are queer women. Finally, we’re getting the same opportunity for a happy go-lucky, feel good rom-com. And while we do get that, it’s not quite as light and fluffy as some anticipated. As a result, many queer women are disappointed with the film. It definitely has plot elements that leave a lot to be desired. But it’s still a very enjoyable holiday film.
As a holiday rom-com, Happiest Season ticks many boxes. There are a few holiday hijinks (mainly fight scenes between Harper and her oldest sister Sloane, played by Alison Brie). Plus family drama (there is a forced outing scene that can be triggering). Watching it makes you want to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa or mulled wine and a cozy blanket. And I’ll say it right now, Kristen Stewart is hot. And I would very much love to see a lesbian rom-com starring her and Aubrey Plaza in impeccably tailored suits. Dan Levy is, as always, a treasure. And Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber shine as Harper’s WASP-y parents. It will certainly join the holiday rom-com rotation in my house.
At its core, Happiest Season is a story centering the struggle of coming out. The film focuses on Abby and Harper, played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, respectively. In the opening credits, we see the progression of their relationship, which takes us directly into the action. Getting caught up in the holiday cheer, Harper invites Abby home with her for Christmas. But she doesn’t expect her to accept.
When she does, Harper is in trouble. Because despite telling Abby otherwise, she hasn’t told her parents that she’s a lesbian or in a long term relationship. And if that isn’t bad enough, she tells her family Abby is just her roommate with nowhere to go for the holidays because she has no family. Oh, and they think Abby’s straight too. Now, this could open the door for some truly rom-com like moments, but that doesn’t happen enough.
Many of the complaints queer women have about Happiest Season is that it’s too triggering. Not solely because of the characters being forced to hide their sexuality. What everyone is really reacting to isn’t just that Harper isn’t out. It’s the way she handles it.
Harper treats Abby like shit the entire time. But because Abby loves her, she keeps dealing with it, which is beyond unfair. Even though she brings Abby into her world, she then turns around and ignores her. If they were just friends, she’d be a shitty friend, but it’s doubly painful because they’re in love with each other. It’s hard to root for Harper after she ditches her at multiple events.
One of the hardest scenes to watch is when Abby joins Harper and her high school friends for a night out. Feeling ignored, Abby decides to head home. Instead of saying goodnight to her friends, Harper stays for several more hours, closing the night out with her ex-boyfriend. Then when Abby asks about her behavior, Harper reacts harshly. She’s feeling the pressure of her poor choices, and then takes them out on Abby, telling her she feels like they need a “break.”
Abby finds solidarity from Riley (Aubrey Plaza), Harper’s ex-girlfriend. Riley is the only person who can begin to understand what Abby’s experiencing. She has intimate knowledge of what it’s like being forced to hide Harper’s sexuality. She also knows what damaging effects it has. Offering nothing more than a sympathetic ear and kindness, you can see that there is potential for friendship there. There’s a great scene where they drink together at a drag show. It’s a necessary moment of levity. Many of us secretly hoped for the two of them to end up together in the end. Riley is able to offer Abby everything she deserves. And Aubrey Plaza in a blazer is really hot.
Dan Levy plays Abby’s friend John, who provides not only comedic relief, but an important message. John is more than just the wisecracking gay sidekick. He really ends up being there for Abby when she needs him. He even pretends to be her ex-boyfriend when she needs rescuing. When Harper epically betrays Abby by denying her sexuality when she finally has the chance to defend their relationship, John talks Abby down. He makes a great point about everyone having a different journey to being out. And if anything, that should be one of the main takeaways of this film.
Happiest Season is not without its faults. But it’s only one story. Coming out stories never get old because everyone’s journey is different. The problem here isn’t solely the movie. Because there are so few stories that focus on queer women, more specifically lesbians, we pin all our hopes on one movie. So if it’s not everything to everyone, it’s written off as bad or disappointing. I’m hoping that one day soon, we’ll have so many movies that each one won’t have to be everything to everyone. But all in all, it’s a very enjoyable film, even if it’s not perfect.
Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.
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