Released: 26th November
Seen: 11th December
At the time I write this, I will have seen a little over 150 films so far this year. Considering that 2020 has been a roaring dumpster fire for cinema with every film seemingly moved to some point in the future, that’s not a bad total. Here’s a bad total though, out of those 150+ films you wanna take a guess how many of them featured an LGBT person as one of the named main characters? 15. 15! 15!! That’s one in every ten films that feature a character that openly identifies as either L, G, B or T.
Wait, I can make this worse. If I take out all the documentaries that’re specifically about a LGBT person, group or location (That’d be Howard, Scream Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street, Disclosure, A Secret Love and Circus of Books) then I get 10 films. If I only count the films where the gay character is the lead character that the story actually focusses on? Three.
- Spiral, the horror film about the gay couple who get basically tortured and gaslit by the culty neighbours and it doesn’t end well for them,
- The New Mutants which didn’t end well for anybody
- The Boys in the Band which was a great film with an ending that’s almost designed to depress.
That’s the set of stories that we got this year for gay characters… and then Happiest Season popped up and yay, we have a Christmas movie now!
Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), a young, happy lesbian couple who live together in a cute little apartment. They have your typical life, they go out to look at Christmas lights, hang out with their gay friend John (Daniel Levy) and just in general have a good life together. The one difference they seem to have focuses around Christmas, Harper loves it and Abby doesn’t. Harper mostly seems to love it because her parents do Christmas big so Harper drags Abby home to join in her family Christmas in hopes that it might make Abby love it too. There’s one tiny problem though…Harper isn’t out to her parents, so her and Abby will need to spend the entire holiday keeping their relationship a secret.
In terms of a family Christmas movie, Happiest Season is just delightful. There’s a relatability to this story of a family Christmas where everyone’s so determined to have a perfect holiday that they end up accidentally making a hellish time for everyone, from taking the kids shopping that turns into a major incident to constantly trying to force the perfect family photo and being thwarted every time. The genuinely great thing about this film is that it helps prove something that any LGBT person already knew, that it’s possible to make films about queer characters in a way that’s accessible to non-queer people… though, there is one thing about this film that does kinda irk me.
So, the bulk of the tension of Happiest Season comes from the main couple being forced back in the closet (which they even joke about in a cutesy moment where Abby is literally in a closet) and it’s a fine thing to use to raise tension and makes for some decent comedic moments… but oh my god I’m so tired of coming out stories.
When it comes to narratives around gay characters it always feels like they’re there either to do a coming out story or an AIDS story and sure enough, this film does the same coming out story that a lot of other mainstream films about queer characters does and I just want something different. It’s kinda why Boys in the Band made me so happy because everyone lives, no one comes out, no one had AIDS, it was gay people at a party being bitchy and it was fun. This film keeps hammering in the “Coming out is hard” story and I’ve heard that so many times that I’m just tired of it.
Fortunately, Happiest Season also celebrates a lot of great things about gay culture. There’s a scene where Abby and, one of Harper’s exes, Riley (Aubrey Plaza) hang out together in a gay bar where a couple of drag queens (Jinkx Monsoon and BenDelaCreme) are performing and it’s probably the highlight of the film just because it’s one of the few times we get to see Abby relax and be around people who fully embrace her for who she is.
Also, any time that John pops up to either talk to Abby on the phone or even come to rescue her from the boring party is a joy because Dan Levy brings all the best laugh lines and is unable to hide who he is in a way that’s delightful (Seriously, I know he just got off winning all of the Emmys for Schitt’s Creek but the man needs to be in more movies because he’ll steal them all). When they actually let our gay characters be proudly gay, it’s heartwarming and touching.
It also helps that the rest of the cast is a pure delight, from Mary Steenburgen as an anxious overbearing mother who is going to get that family photo no matter what to Mary Holland as the awkward younger sister Jane who just wants to be a part of everything and also constantly tells anyone who will listen about her fantasy novel that she’s working on. All of them are fun, though I’ll admit that Aubrey Plaza basically steals any scene she’s in and by the end you will kinda hope that Abby and Riley will get together. It’s the kind of cast that can just charm their way through all the moments that don’t quite work.
Happiest Season might not be perfect, but very few Christmas movies are. What it is is absolutely charming, filled with great performances and a few really big laughs. More importantly, there’s finally a Christmas movie with openly gay characters that’s been released into the mainstream. I hope there’s many more like this, there can never be enough good Christmas movies and having one that also does quality representation, even while it repeats a story that only ever gets told with that specific group, is still something special.