Happiest season evaluation: Clea DuVall is making a stupendous household drama

Clea DuVall's new movie has some big laughs, but it's most powerful when it explores what it means to join a family.

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Clea DuVall’S Happiest season is the best type of bait and switch. It lures you on the premise that a lesbian couple must pretend they're straightforward through the holidays so that the more conservative family won't get a fuss. So you think, "Ah, well, it's set in a happy time, there's a I suspect there's going to be a lot of confusion if you try to keep this trick up," and DuVall and co-author instead Mary Holland Hit up a much more thoughtful story about what it means to accept another person, not just for their sexuality, but for all the baggage they bring with them. The film still offers some really big laughs (many courtesy of Holland too), but at its core, Happiest Season is a nifty romance that gives the family drama an unexpected texture.

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) have been together for about a year. Abby isn't busy for the holidays, but Harper impulsively asks her to come visit with her family. Abby, who lost her own parents when she was nineteen, decides to come, but learns on the crossing that Harper has remained hidden and her parents think Abby is just a friend / roommate. Harper explains that her father Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor and needs the support of a major donor. So if they just go straight ahead on vacation, Harper will reveal the truth later. However, when Abby takes a close look at Harper's family, she sees that a gay daughter is likely the least of her dysfunction.

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Image via Sony Pictures

Some may look at the happiest time of year and wonder why Abby would want anything to do with Harper or her family, but if you buy Abby and Harper as a couple (and Stewart and Davis have enough chemistry to clear that case) then then if this is the case it is a pretty realistic situation. Personally, I like my in-laws a lot, but I know that not everyone is so lucky, and Happiest Season is carefully pulling back to show that Harper's mom Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) is quite intense, there is a serious rivalry between Harper and her sister Sloane (Alison Brie) and her other sister Jane (Holland) just wants to play peacemaker for the whole family. Happiest Season carefully understands that while Abby wants to spend the rest of her life with Harper, she needs to understand that it also means spending this life with Harper's family, which requires a level of perfect presentation that includes some serious flaws under a has caused a pleasant facade.

And yet DuVall treats this heavy material with a light touch. She shoots Happiest Season more like a Nancy Meyers film with brightly lit rooms and perfect kitchens than serious family drama. There were times when I saw the happiest time of the year when I was even a bit melancholy because I knew that in the year of COVID, I would not be spending the holidays with my relatives. Though Harper's family can be a little bit large, the film values ​​and respects them as a family despite their dysfunction. You want to go on the ice skating journey. You want to take this ill-advised last minute trip to the mall. The wisdom of the happiest time of year is knowing that the family is not perfect, but that you still want to be a part of it.

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Image via Sony

By focusing more on family than on hiding Abby and Harper's romance (the weapon in act first that must go off in act third), Happiest Season manages to be light and frothy, yet surprisingly deep . The film still manages to get some big laughs from Holland Dan Levy, who plays Abby's gay friend John, while balancing it with believable scenarios from the rest of the family. It seems clear that DuVall and Holland didn't want to make a story about how crazy it is to pretend they're locked, but wanted to tell a story about not hiding who you are in any way, not just your sexuality.

The happiest season isn't the movie I expected, and I'm grateful for it because the movie I expected wouldn't have been that good. As she demonstrated with her previous feature, The interventionDuVall has a knack for thoughtful ensemble dramas that don't lose sight of their comic beats or deeper emotional moments. The happiest time of the year doesn't try to turn the vacation drama upside down, it uses a simple premise to come up with a much richer story about the power of acceptance we all need.

Rating: B +

The happiest season premieres on November 25th exclusively on Hulu.

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About the author

Matt Goldberg
(14713 articles published)

Matt Goldberg has been an editor at Collider since 2007. As the site's chief film critic, he has written hundreds of reviews and covered major film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and their dog Jack.

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