It would be crude to say that Happiest Season is a lesbian couple version of the Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller comedy Meet the Parents (2000), because the film is so much more than that. Sure, the film copies the blueprint of the classic comedy, but it also makes it its own.

Here, Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart) and Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) have been happily together for a year. Abby isn’t fond of the holiday season because her parents passed away, so Harper invites her to meet her family for Christmas.

Now, normally, when a partner invites you to meet their parents on the holidays, you assume that they know about your relationship. So you can imagine Abby’s shock when Harper tells her on the road trip to the family home that her parents don’t know about them. What’s more, they don’t even know that their daughter is gay.

Harper apologies to Abby for lying to her. She says she hasn’t come out to her parents because it would interfere with her father’s election campaign for mayor.

Happiest Season tackles its delicate subject matter quite authentically

When the pair arrives, Abby is introduced as Harper’s orphan roommate, who was invited for Christmas because she had nowhere to go. Soon, Abby is introduced to the rest of Harper’s family, including her father, Ted (Victor Garber), her mother Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), her sister Jane (Mary Holland), and older sister Sloane (Alison Brie).

Meeting your partner’s family is awkward, but it’s extra awkward for Abby because she sees another, weirder side to her girlfriend. Meanwhile, the two try to get some intimacy but land in embarrassing situations.

To make things even more uncomfortable for Abby, she meets Harper’s ex-girlfriend, Riley (Aubrey Plaza), and ex-boyfriend Conner (Jake McDorman).

Abby’s only ally in all this is her best friend John, who is played by the hilarious Daniel Levy (Schitt’s Creek). The two gossip about Abby’s situation on the phone, while John shares updates on the whereabouts of his friends and one-night-encounters. For some reason, John tracks them with his GPS, which is strangely amusing.

The Happiest Season has its share of cliches. Many of the situations and coincidences feel obviously scripted to push the story along or make us laugh. However, that’s how it goes with these types of films.

Although the situations in the Happiest Season can feel contrived, there is genuine warmth in the film. Director and writer Clea DuVall based the film on her own experiences, and it shows — Happiest Season tackles its delicate subject matter quite authentically.

Despite its subject matter, the Happiest Season is far from a serious film. For the most part, it’s engaging, heartwarming, and funny. The performances are excellent. Everyone, from the main cast to the supporting actors, bring their A-game. Kristen Stewart is particularly good with her realistically understated performance as a woman suddenly learning a lot about her partner.

And as I mentioned earlier, Daniel Levy is just fantastic with his subtle comical energy. Of course, you should expect excellent performances from a film full of some of the most talented film and TV actors in Hollywood.

Rated PG-13 for some language

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 13th, 2020

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