Happiest Season follows lesbian couple Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) as they travel to Harper’s hometown to visit her family for Christmas. The catch? Harper hasn’t told her parents she’s gay, let alone that she’s dating and in love with another woman.
For the sake of tension and drama, Harper waits to drop this bomb on Abby until they’re already halfway there, forcing Abby to reluctantly agree to pretend to be Harper’s straight roommate. Because being her gay, platonic roommate would somehow be too revealing.
When the pair arrive at Harper’s childhood home, Abby is hastily introduced to the family as Harper’s orphan roommate. The reception she receives from Harper’s parents is not unkind, but not exactly warm either. Harper’s dad, Ted (Victor Garber), is in the middle of a political campaign and her mom, Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), is trying very hard to make sure everyone in the family is doing their best to keep up appearances. And Abby seems to get lost in the middle of it all.
Throughout the film, Harper keeps Abby mostly at arms length, leaving her completely alone on several occasions. While Harper tries to make up for the distance between them at first with stolen kisses and embraces, at some point even this becomes too much for her.
She soon becomes too preoccupied with family obligations, competing with her sister, Sloane (Alison Brie), for their father’s love, and catching up with old friends. She even goes so far as to flirt with her old high school boyfriend, Connor (Jake McDorman), whom her parents very unsubtly try to set her up with at one point.
And through it all, Abby is on the sidelines.
Feeling hurt and alone, Abby finds solace in her friend John (Dan Levy), who checks in on her way too frequently, and Riley (Aubrey Plaza), Harper’s ex-girlfriend. In her conversations with Riley, Abby finds out that Harper outed Riley when they were in high school after one of her friends found a love letter from Riley in her locker. This does little to calm Abby’s worries, especially when Harper ditches her to hang out with Connor all night. When Abby mentions how late she gets home the next morning, Harper tells her that she feels suffocated.
At the most critical juncture of the film, Sloane outs Harper in a fit of competitive rage to what looks like the entire town. Her family, friends, neighbors, and a prospective political donor of her dad all witness the scene. In response, Harper denies it all. Despite promising Abby that she would wait for the right time to tell her parents, she very defensively denies being gay and being in love with Abby, and Abby promptly walks right out the door.
And honestly? I can’t blame her. Harper spends most of the film either ignoring Abby or treating her like shit. I can’t even begin to imagine how painful that must be, especially since Abby was planning on proposing to her. Of course, if you’ve seen the film, you know they still end up together. Harper tracks Abby down after she leaves and begs her for another chance.
And while I’m a sucker for queer love and I did cry my eyes out when Harper’s parents tell her that they love and accept her, the ending still didn’t sit quite right with me. And it’s not just because I think Abby should have ended up with Riley.
It’s that Harper lied to Abby about telling her parents about their relationship, made it seem like pretending to be straight for a few days would be some cute and sexy secret, and then proceeded to treat the person she loves like dirt. And for what? To maintain this carefully curated version of herself for the sake of her parents, who aren’t even homophobic. It’s not that Harper should have come out, it’s that she lied about it and waited until the very last minute to tell Abby the truth.
While I’m critical of Happiest Season, I’m also very glad that it exists. Despite Harper’s poor behavior, the film is full of great comedic moments and offers up something so seldom seen in movies and on TV: queer women in love on Christmas Day.