“Happiest Season” is a home-for-the-holidays film that serves up what you anticipate, together with one thing you don’t. The second function directed by the actress-turned-filmmaker Clea DuVall (“The Intervention”), who exhibits a singular aptitude for shaping performances in addition to a lush new visible confidence, the movie is cheeky and blithe and situational, suffused with sufficient upscale Christmas froth to get the viewers excessive on spiced-cocktail fumes. In a key scene close to the tip, it’s greater than keen to go over-the-top. But “Happiest Season” can be a deft and humane dramedy of manners that’s actually about one thing. It’s a coming-out story that feels extremely particular to our period, even because it retains pelting us with entertaining household curveballs. You’re not prone to confuse a film like this one with artwork, but “Happiest Season” is system executed with feeling; you’ll be able to imagine in the individuals you’re watching. The film is a true romance — not as a result of it’s a rom-com about two individuals stumbling towards love, however as a result of it’s a rom-com about two individuals already in love navigating the minefield of what love is. That every one provides as much as a Christmas film that lifts your spirit in simply the suitable methods.
I’m been a fan of Kristen Stewart’s from day one, however in all these years when the haters — and there have been a lot of them — griped that she was too moody and recessive and self-conscious, too cool for college in an I’m-twirling-my-hair-because-I’m-uptight-about-my-superiority manner, though I didn’t agree (I believed she was nearer to the younger Jane Fonda), there was a a part of me that did need to see Stewart exhibit her lighter, freer, extra contented and companionable aspect, to revel in the life-glow she had as a star.
That’s what she does in “Happiest Season,” even because the character she’s enjoying is caught in a main bind. Carrying lengthy platinum hair that units off her straightforward, open grin, Stewart performs Abby, who has been residing with Harper (Mackenzie Davis) for a whereas, they usually’re a severe couple: affected person, devoted, affectionate, good firm. The 2 dwell in Pittsburgh, the place Abby is working towards her art-history doctorate at Carnegie Mellon and Harper is a political reporter on The Pittsburgh Publish-Gazette. Their principal distinction seems to be that Harper loves Christmas and Abby doesn’t (or so she says). However when Harper invitations Abby to spend the vacation along with her household in Grove Metropolis about 50 miles away, she agrees to come back. Perhaps that’s as a result of Abby has a secret scheme: She plans to suggest to Harper in entrance of her household, and even ask for her father’s blessing.
If you wish to understand how typical “Happiest Season” is, it’s a film in which Abby has a homosexual finest pal, John (Daniel Levy, from “Schitt’s Creek”), who says issues like “Ask her dad for his blessing? Option to stick it to the patriarchy!” However Abby’s plan hits a snag on the automotive trip up, when Harper confesses that she has by no means instructed her household about Abby; she has by no means even come out to them. So Abby instantly has to faux to be Harper’s straight roommate, in addition to an “orphan” who had nowhere to go for Christmas. (Abby, in truth, misplaced her mother and father when she was 19, however it’s a working gag that everybody in Harper’s dwelling treats her like a wayward little one refugee.)
The duplicity, at first, seems like the fundamental stuff of a vacation sitcom. Besides that what number of instances has a state of affairs like this one truly performed out? At coronary heart, “Happiest Season” is a severe, at instances revolutionary mainstream comedy rooted in the unhappiness of a world the place the closet, for too many individuals, nonetheless persists in some kind.
Harper’s mother and father dwell in a stately brick mini-mansion that appears, in and out, prefer it was constructed to be on a Christmas card, they usually’re welcoming if barely stuffy individuals. Her father, Ted (Victor Garber), is a metropolis councilman who’s working for mayor, and he’s stuffed with small-time braggadocio; her mother, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), is a flighty however calculating political spouse hooked on updating her husband’s social-media profile. They appear innocent, but they’re conventional and temperamentally conservative of us, which signifies that they suppose having a homosexual daughter could be a shameful scandal. Harper, studying these alerts, has stored herself locked up inside, and she will’t appear to search out the suitable second to interrupt out. What she doesn’t notice is that there’s by no means going to be a proper second.
“Happiest Season” retains introducing characters who, in a lesser movie, would have been triggers for megaplex broadness. Out to dinner on the primary evening, Tipper invitations Harper’s previous high-school boyfriend, the preppie hunk Connor (Jake McDorman), hoping to rekindle that spark. There are run-ins with Riley (Aubrey Plaza, who can flip a easy deadpan stare into dish), Harper’s first girlfriend — and, as we be taught, the primary casualty of Harper’s resolution to not be open about who she is. We’re all equipped for a film designed to push buttons of jealousy, possessiveness, and so forth.
However that’s the place Stewart’s ethereal charisma comes in. Her Abby isn’t undone by any of this; she’s simply attempting to get by way of the weekend and play together with Harper’s I’m-a-straight-girl ruse. For all of the Christmas boozing occurring, “Happiest Season” isn’t a film of low-cost comedian pictures. At a social gathering the place Ted offers a speech and schmoozes a key donor (Ana Gasteyer, delightfully placing on airs as a florid kingmaker), Abby surveys all of the mendacity occurring and takes it in stride. Harper and her two sisters are a riot of tangled rivalry — she and the imply, mercenary Sloane, who parades her mixed-race kids like equipment, despise each other, however the way in which that Alison Brie performs Sloane, she invests each barb with a lethal twinkle of consciousness. In the meantime, the hapless Jane, who’s engaged on an epic fantasy novel, is a geek who has spent her life taking over the function of household doormat, all to get out of the way in which of her two shining-star siblings. Mary Holland, who co-wrote the film’s script together with DuVall, performs her as a hilariously off-kilter runt model of a Kristen Wiig neurotic.
That script is dotted with droll traces, however one of the best factor about it’s the manner it brings the battle to a head. Abby, watching Harper give the closeted efficiency that she’s been giving her entire life, sees a aspect of her that she doesn’t like — the one who play-acts and denies herself virtually too effectively. In a film made 30 years in the past, this may need been framed as a personal-is-political disagreement. The grace of “Happiest Season” is that the movie views it as nothing lower than a non secular dilemma, one which exists on the traffic-jam intersection of identification, politics, and love.
Stewart underplays fantastically, cueing each scene to her reactive slyness however leaving room for Mackenzie Davis to take over the film and make it sing. And what an actor Davis is! Like Julia Roberts in “My Finest Buddy’s Wedding ceremony,” she acts with a lot emotion that she tears a gap in the rom-com frivolity. Even when the over-the-top second occurs (a Christmas social gathering that flirts with catastrophe then falls into it), the household dynamics stay true, and Harper stays torn: between the “good” daughter she was and the lady she is. However that’s when Davis’ efficiency takes to the air; she exhibits you nothing lower than a soul in formation. It’s Harper’s future to hit backside and bounce again, higher than earlier than, and Davis makes Harper’s resolution to declare who she is the final word Christmas current to herself. The way in which this film works, it’s additionally a present to the world.