Happiest Season review: This same-sex romcom subverts typical Christmas movie tropes without losing heart
Let it snow
Some would argue that a good rom-com is an escapist fantasy — there is nothing realistic about it because authenticity is not what we're in search of. We want swoon-worthy affairs of the heart, fervent declarations, and any sort of dramatics featuring a rain scene or, uh, a crime of passion (jk). Still, there is something to be said about movies so out-of-touch, they displace and discomfort in its entirety. The Kissing Booth, for instance, feels like it was produced in the earlies 2000s for its flagrant displays of toxic masculinity. Same goes for the 2019 adaption of After, which centers around a bet to take someone's virginity, of all things.
Happiest Season, thankfully, suffers from none of that. Its feet are heavily grounded in reality; a brutally honest portrayal of present-day relationships and the obstacles that crop up within. Naturally, the challenges exhibited are of a different nature as what we'd ordinarily see in mainstream media. After all, the film revolves around a queer relationship, one between Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Davis). They are presented as a solidified front in early parts of the movie, wielding an easy familiarity with one another characteristic of couples well-attuned to each other's quirks and wants. This all dissolves when Harper invites Abby to spend Christmas with her family, who — surprise, surprise! — has no idea she's gay. This then sets off a chain of events where Abby is forced to act as Harper's single, orphaned, and heterosexual roommate instead of her loving girlfriend.
What comes next is laughable and tragic in equal measure; an amalgamation of slapstick scenes paired with awkward interactions underscored with anguish. And that is precisely the magic of Happiest Season: where it serves up comedy with the purpose of fleshing out their characters further, delving into who they are and what makes them tick.
Harper's competitive relationship with her sister, Sloane, could have been played off as archetypal sibling rivalry. Instead, it is revealed to be a by-product of their parent's perfectionist upbringing — which is a major factor as to Harper's refusal to come to terms with her identity. This is all laid out in a sidesplitting physical throwdown between the two sisters that slowly unfolds into the emotional climax of the film. Then there's the part where Abby is forced to literally hide in a closet to prevent Harper's mother, Tipper, from spotting her; a rather on-the-nose incident that sums up the root of the conflict between Harper and Abby.
All of this is assisted by stellar and sincere performances by both the leads and supporting cast alike. Dan Levy as John, Abby's gay best friend, is particularly scintillating, easing from droll one-liners to heart-wrenching monologues without a sweat. His depiction of Abby's heterosexual ex-boyfriend is perhaps one of the purest, lightest parts of the movie, unfettered by the emotional baggage and complications accompanied by most of the humour in this production.
Ultimately, Happiest Season is a well-timed and -executed film; an ideal fit for the current season and climate we live in. One would even go as far as to call it the perfect gift in the tumultuous year that is 2020 — we certainly would.