Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of year. There’s family, delicious food, presents and, most importantly, a lot of cheesy romantic Christmas movies. For the longest time, these terrible, cheesy Christmas movies my wife and I love so much all fit into the same specific genre with no exceptions: heterosexual nonsense.
But this year, after years of dreaming and hoping, my Christmas wish came true. 2020 is the year when we finally get to see the first mainstream Christmas movie in the genre I’ve always wanted: lesbian nonsense.
The film is Happiest Season and it stars Kristen Stewart as Abby, a woman who plans to propose to her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) at Harper’s family Christmas gathering. The twist is that Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s gay, let alone in a relationship, and hijinks ensue.
It’s a lot more poignant than your average cheesy Christmas rom-com, it actually has something to say, and it appears to have had some kind of budget and talent involved. All of these were lovely surprises that I wasn’t really looking for.
The cast is incredible: Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek, Great Canadian Baking Show), Alison Brie (Community), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec), Victor Garber (Titanic, Legends of Tomorrow), and Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Orange Is The New Black), not to mention the leading ladies.
Although the overall quality, competency and emotional investment was far beyond the usual fare, it did have some of the hallmarks of the traditional Lifetime Christmas movie:
- The family was ridiculous in the best, most endearing way.
- I’m not sure Harper and Abby should have been together or stayed together (maybe there just needed to be more establishing the relationship at the start, but it doesn’t help that Kristen Stewart was the only actor who appeared invested in and connected to the relationship).
- There was a slapstick scene where everyone was out of character and I cringed down to my very soul.
- There was a sassy gay best friend.
- One character loved Christmas and the other hated it.
- There was one sibling no one liked who was absolutely the best sibling.
- There was an unfortunate misunderstanding.
I absolutely loved about 90% of this movie, and I now finally get the hype around Kristen Stewart. Having only seen her in Twilight and Charlie’s Angels I’d always written her off a bit, but she really seemed to come to life in this role.
My issues with the movie stem from the central “coming out” portion of the plot.
What Harper did to Abby by telling a complete lie about coming out, and then not telling her she’d have to go back into the closet for Christmas until they were almost at her parents’ house is horrendous. There’s not being ready to come out to your family, and then there is full on lying to your partner for months and leaving out critical information until it’s too late to turn back.
There’s also my frustration that it seems there’s only two stories for lead queer characters: coming out or getting pregnant. Both of those stories are extremely important, but they’re not the only stories that can be told about us at Christmas. Loving other women isn’t always about pain and secrecy. Usually it’s about pining for too long while each waits for the other to make the first move, or being completely blind to any idea that someone else might be into you, or bumping into all your exes at a Tegan and Sara concert, or just trying to find the time to propose in a world where the perfect moment is hard to come by.
Clearly this was written by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland to work through some issues, and there are going to be some people who absolutely cling to this story as being something that finally sees them. Not all lesbian movies need to be for all people, the same as how not all Christmas movies about a high powered PR exec falling in love with a small-town dog groomer aren’t for everyone. But I do wish that for once we could get a lesbian rom-com about the joy of love, rather than the pain of coming out.
Happiest Season actually isn’t the first lesbian Christmas movie I’ve seen — there was also Season Of Love last year, which starred Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Wynonna Earp and The Carmilla Movie). But because it was only available from fairly niche places, it didn’t get the recognition it deserved. There’s also another movie, A New York Christmas Wedding, on Netflix which I haven’t had the chance to see yet, but am told is very queer. This doubling sequence of queer female Christmas movies gives me great hope that as early as 2024, I might be able to spend all of December watching cheesy Christmas movies without having to see a single big city career woman be taught to love Christmas, small towns and heteronormativity by a bland white man in a red jumper.
One of the most magical things about the experience of seeing Happiest Season wasn’t just that it was the first movie I’ve seen in a cinema since the start of 2020. But because this was a lesbian rom-com that I could see in a traditional, regular, mainstream cinema – not just an arthouse cinema, or at a queer film festival. And better still, none of the lesbians died. That never happens, and it felt amazing.
Is Happiest Season perfect? Absolutely not on any level. But no Christmas movie is, and nor should it be. I wish it had been a little more fun and hadn’t broken my heart quite so many times between all the laughs. But I’ve never felt so invested in a Christmas movie, and I think that’s because this is one of the first Christmas movies I could identify with and feel seen in. When the lights came up in the cinema, I looked at my wife and we both had tears of joy and “aww” in our eyes. This movie has power, it has Dan Levy being hilarious, a new Christmas song from lesbian legends Tegan and Sara, and it has Kristen Stewart wearing a largely unbuttoned tuxedo, and all my Christmases have come at once.