For fans of seasonal festivity, the lesbian romantic comedy “Happiest Season” is a three-for-one bargain. It’s set during Christmas, it’ll release over Thanksgiving, and in keeping with Halloween, it’s a monster movie about the horrors that can arise when socializing with straight people.
In a charismatic and funny turn, Kristen Stewart stars as Abby, an amiable lesbian who hopes to propose to her girlfriend on a Christmas trip to meet the parents. The only catch is that Abby’s partner, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), has lied about coming out to her uptight family, and she wants Abby to keep up the heterosexual charade. Abby acquiesces to Harper’s wishes, despite the protests of her best friend John (Daniel Levy). For five days Abby fields prying questions, public ex-boyfriends and secret ex-girlfriends — all for the sake of her woefully abashed sweetheart.
The movie (streaming on Hulu) was directed by Clea Duvall — perhaps best known for her star turn in the cult film, “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Her “Happiest Season” looks as glossy as a Tinseltown Christmas card; its coming-out plot has traces of decades old Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repression.
Yet beneath the holly jolly facade, there is real disdain here for straight people’s cheery conservatism, their preference for smiling silence. This is a story about the self-annihilation queer people face when they mold themselves to straight expectations, told by a lesbian filmmaker working in maybe the most stereotypically heterosexual genre — the Christmas romantic comedy. The movie practically vibrates with its own meta tension.
It’s a kick to watch household names like Stewart and Levy (along with Victor Garber and Aubrey Plaza) grapple with questions of queer performance and straight perception. Discomforted, thrilled, I felt gayer for having seen it.
Rated PG-13 for language and references to sex. Running time: 1 hours and 42 minutes. Watch on Hulu.
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