Happiest Season (2020)

CLEA DuVALL

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA/, 2020. , , , . Story by Clea DuVall, Screenplay by Clea DuVall, . Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Actor Clea DuVall (The Faculty, Girl, Interrupted) turns to directing and supplies a sorely needed entry to the holiday movie genre: a lesbian Hallmark(esque) film.   Based, reportedly, on her own experience going home to meet a partner’s family, it stars and as a happy couple who live together and, as far as Abby (Stewart) is concerned, are ready to take it to the next level.  First, though, they have to make it through the holidays and are not looking forward to being separated, Abby planning to stay home and watch their pets, Harper going to visit her parents.  Harper can’t get enough of the Yuletide holidays and is upset that her partner isn’t into it, so in a rush of passion on a brightly-illuminated evening she insists that she come with her, and Abby, despite reservations, does.  Unfortunately, it’s not until they’re well on their way there that Harper reveals a truth that Abby was wholly unaware of: her family doesn’t know she’s gay and Abby is going to have to pretend to be her best friend/roommate.  It’s another thing that Abby reluctantly agrees to, and then over the next few days is treated to a reserved, judgmental family whose parents (, Mary Steenburgen) need everything kept picture-perfect for his mayoral campaign while sisters and the film’s co-screenwriter Mary Holland have their own personality issues to work out, one hiding her misery behind an uptight and holy veneer, the other concealing her low self-esteem in an anxiously eager-to-please manner.  With an ensemble this extreme and in a setting (upper-crust Pennsylvania town) this treacherous, we are prepared to have a good time watching Abby basically be launched into a pinball machine, pinging back and forth between everyone’s rude questions, strange requests and even being framed for stealing while doing her best to respect Harper’s wishes and keep her secret.  Her real problem, though, is that the minute they arrive at this falsely idyllic hamlet, Harper becomes a different person, not just hiding one secret but wholly shutting Abby out, taking up with an ex-boyfriend and relegating Abby to spending time with Harper’s ex ( in the film’s best performance).  The problem for all of us as viewers is that we really don’t understand why Abby doesn’t set the house on fire and run.  People this rude and unwelcoming don’t need to be catered to and Harper shows herself very much unworthy of the ring that Abby is concealing in her pocket, and DuVall, while creating appropriate stakes to keep the situation going (Abby can’t leave because it’s too expensive a drive), never really justifies the length of effort that Abby makes to keep things going. The film can never decide on its comedic tone, ruining its goofy fun by trying to be sincere and then losing credibility every time it tries to have an abandoned, good time, with characters who are all satirical takes on heteronormative nightmares (how many times can they call Abby an orphan before we decide we’re in pure satire territory) but then demand that we allow them human feelings in the last third without really earning the privilege (or doing it well in some cases, witness Garber’s atrociously written brochure dialogue).  If Stewart, who changes her mind about how to play this character in just about every scene, had nearly as good chemistry with Davis as she does Plaza (or any chemistry at all, they seem like they loathe every scene where they have to kiss), maybe this good-natured film’s major flaws would be worth forgiving, but DuVall and Holland, in wanting to allow everyone a chance at forgiveness and redemption, make the wrong choice and clearly ignore the relationship that really works.  It’s well overdue to get some LGBT representation in the oversaturated Christmas-movie market, and this one goes down too easily to be named an outright failure, but it’s a undeniable shame that it isn’t better.

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