’Tis the Season for holiday rom-coms. Ironically however, watching “Happiest Season” won’t make you happy. In fact, this is the most unpleasant movie of the year. And it has nothing to do with the concept: a modern day, seasonal romance involving a young Lesbian couple. It’s the characters, situations, themes and overall tone which combine to form a large lump of coal.
Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play Abby and Harper, the happy couple. Harper loves the holidays. Abby doesn’t — not since her parents died several years ago in a car accident. So Harper decides to invite Abby to her parents’ house in Pittsburgh for a 5-day Christmas vacation. Abby’s excited… but on the morning they’re scheduled to leave, Harper begins to regret her decision. During the car ride, she spills the beans that she still hasn’t told her parents that she’s gay and has a girlfriend.
So “Happiest Season” quickly becomes one of those dysfunctional family “we’re keeping some big secrets until we reveal them in a grand fashion near the end” movies we’ve all seen way too many times. Harper’s snobby parents are Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) and Ted (Victor Garber). He’s running for Mayor. For them, the image of having a “perfect family” is everything.
Harper’s believes if she tells her dad the truth it will ruin his campaign. This is just one of several major mistakes by director/co-writer Clea DuVall. Having a gay daughter may have been taboo in 1990, but in 2020, it would have no negative effect on Ted’s chances winning an election. This film’s (unintentional?) homophobic vibe is disturbing.
Steenburgen’s Tipper isn’t the only completely unlikable member of Harper’s family. Abby’s older sister Sloane (Alison Brie) is a total bitch. She and her husband have two unpleasant kids — and a secret of their own. Jane, the other sister, is the unapologetically goofy, quirky one (which every rom-com must have). She’s played by Mary Holland, who also co-wrote the script. Every line of dialogue out of her mouth is unfunny and ridiculous. Daniel Levy (recent multi-Emmy winner for “Schitt’s Creek”) plays Abby’s stereotypical gay best friend, John. Levy does his best to raise the level of the material but it’s a lost cause.
The antics: slapstick physical “humor”, sibling rivalry stunts, awkward rekindling with old flames and embarrassing moments at parties, pile up like gifts in Santa’s sleigh. A running “joke” involving Abby’s dead parents is tasteless and cruel. But it fits in perfectly with the rest of the rude, crude, genuinely awful material.
The only interesting, progressive, semi-well written character is Harper’s former high school girlfriend. Aubrey Plaza is more restrained than we usually see her. She and Stewart have the film’s only quality moments. I was hoping they would get in a car at some point and drive as far away from this movie as possible.
If you like the two of them and have Hulu, just scroll through “Happiest Season” to their handful of scenes together and completely skip the rest. Just consider it my early Christmas present.
LCJ GRADE: D
Running Time: 102 min.