'Happiest Season' Review: Kristen Stewart Movie Doesn't Make Yuletide Gay

Happiest Season is streaming now on Hulu, much to the excitement of many LGBTQ+ fans who have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see a Christmas movie with lesbian leads—especially when those leads were Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, leading a cast that also includes Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen. Gay icons one and all.

And with Happiest Season, the LGBTQ+ community may have reached cinematic quality in one key aspect. Now it too has its own average-to-bad romcom of the sort that the straight community has been churning out for decades.

For sure, the idea of the standard Christmas movie that sees a dysfunctional family trapped together over the festive season has been a standard of the industry, leading to everything from A Christmas Story (excellent) to Love the Coopers (fairly abysmal, though interesting in hindsight for featuring a very young Timothee Chalamet playing a sex-crazed teen).

Happiest Season, however, offers a twist that only a queer spin on the genre could offer. Davis plays Harper, a journalist who asks her orphan girlfriend Abby (Stewart) home for Christmas. One problem: She's not out to her parents, the family values (Republican?) mayoral candidate Ted (Garber) and his highly-strung wife Tipper (Steenbergen).

Of course, the politics of coming out are universal to all LGBTQ+ people, so this is a neat twist on the genre. The trouble is, it is also a traumatic thing for many in the queer community, casting a pall of sadness over much of the movie as Harper fails to find the courage to tell her parents who she really is.

happiest season review
Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart in 'Happiest Season'. Hulu

The movie could have worked better if either it had gone one way, with Abby and Harper playing hilariously heightened impersonations of straight girls, or if it had fully embraced the drama of Harper's fear. As it is, however, it gets stuck somewhere in the middle, with Harper's anxiety giving even the biggest comedic moments (like a competitive ice skating race) a heaviness that weighs them down.

Director Clea DuVall has made a career out of playing comedic characters who seem to have an air of melancholy to them, such as her recurring role as Selena Myer's bodyguard in Veep, but unfortunately, she is unable to translate this into the performances of Stewart and Davis. Both ably last the emotions of their characters but miss the comedic chops needed to balance that out.

In a way, the film suffers the fate that much LGBTQ+ content does, with it having to carry an extra weight of expectation to represent everybody as the first of its kind—I'm sure that straight fodder like (say) Christmas with the Kranks did not have to worry about representation in the same way.

With this movie, however, many queer people will bring their own expectations of closeted partners to the film, and for those viewers it will be hard to see Harper as anything but the unintentional villain of the piece, preventing lovely Kristen Stewart from being her full lesbian self and finding love with someone like Aubrey Plaza's doctor character.

Though Happiest Season breaks new ground as a queer Christmas film, that does not mean that it does not fall victim to some of the clichés of the genre. Levy, for example, plays the sort of sassy gay friend that felt old fashioned 20 years ago.

That said, some of the comedy works, with Steenburgen particularly getting some laughs from the stock role of homemaker-zilla, with lines like: "I once took too many Ambien and bought a racehorse online." The film also realizes how good Alison Brie is playing a Gwyneth Paltrow-like ice queen, something casting agents should take note of.

All too often, Happiest Season ends up being anything but. It does a good job of relating the anxiety and trauma that many queer people experience around the holidays, but ultimately there is little that is funny about that.

Happiest Season is streaming now on Hulu.