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Movie Review: “Happiest Season”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Happiest Season

Hulu Release: 11/25/2020

Hulu Release: 11/25/2020

Synopsis

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) have been dating for awhile now, and it is approaching one of Abby's least favorite times of year—Christmas. Abby lost her parents when she was 19 years old, and since then, she has not really been able to get into the holiday spirit. However, in a moment of spontaneity, Harper decides to invite Abby to her parents' house for Christmas. Abby is initially reluctant, but she ultimately agrees, thinking it is about time that she met Harper's family.

On the ride to her parents' house, Harper drops a bombshell on Abby. Not only has she not told her parents that she is dating Abby, but she has not even come out to her parents. Harper has told her parents that Abby is her straight, orphan roommate, and that she has no where else to go for Christmas. Abby must not only pretend that her and Harper are not dating, but she must also pretend that she is straight. Abby was hoping for a nice week getting to know the family of the woman she wants to spend the rest of her life with, but keeping this secret quickly proves to be a stressful task. If their secret comes out, there is no telling how Harper's perfect family will react.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Abby & Riley (+8pts)

Harper (-8pts)

Dan Levy (+5pts)

Jane (-2pts)

Harper's Family (+6pts)

The End (-4pts)

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Pro: Abby & Riley (+8pts)

Abby was dating someone who had not yet come out to their parents and had not told their parents they were dating. Abby felt like she had to hide who she was, and it was interesting to see how she handled that. I liked seeing a movie, which was basically just a holiday story, but through the lens of a gay couple who had to hide who they were. It made this a story that felt familiar, but it also had a fresh, unique perspective. It was an emotional, compelling story, and I enjoyed seeing it play out on screen.

Then there was Riley (Aubrey Plaza). Riley was Harper's ex-girlfriend, and she had an interesting story of her own, which added a whole new layer to this story. It showed the audience just how complicated Harper was, but it also foreshadowed what might be in store for Abby in the near future. I also liked the fast friends that Abby and Riley became, and I honestly would have preferred seeing Abby and Riley end up together. I thought these two characters had a lot more chemistry together than Abby and Harper did, and I thought Harper ended up coming across as a selfish jerk, even when her parents were not around to justify her being that way. Unfortunately, that was not the direction that the filmmakers went in, but I still enjoyed the dynamic between Abby and Riley whenever they were on screen together.

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Con: Harper (-8pts)

Harper was a pretty unlikable character. Everything seemed fine in the beginning of the movie. Then all of a sudden, she dropped a bombshell lie on Abby during their drive to Harper's parents' house. It was a pretty big lie, and it was one that she should have been open with Abby about from the beginning, or should have at the very least told Abby before they began driving.

It should have been a huge red flag for Abby, and unfortunately, Harper's actions only got worse from there. She also seemed to have no problem ditching Abby whenever she got the chance, she lied to Abby regarding her past with Riley—which was pretty darn relevant to exactly what her and Abby were going through at the time—and she had no problem throwing Abby under the bus in order to save face. I liked the premise of this movie—being about a gay couple and the drama they might go through with their families over the holidays—but I thought Harper was too unlikable of a character to get behind. It even hit a certain point where I was rooting for them not to work out, hoping Abby would wind up with the far more reasonable Riley. Whether that happened or not, it is not a good sign when one of the main characters comes across so poorly.

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Pro: Dan Levy (+5pts)

Dan Levy was easily the funniest part of the movie. His nonchalant way of justifying why he tracked people was amusing. Then his handling of the pets—particularly the fish—and his yelling for Abby as soon as he walked into a mostly quiet party were both really funny as well. His heart to heart with Abby when she was at her lowest point was also pretty emotional, and he was the driving force behind that scene—as Abby was really just listening to him. I got the impression that Dan Levy was really speaking from the heart in this scene, and it made his dialogue feel raw and impactful. The guy was really funny when he needed to be, but he also effectively brought the drama and the emotion when the story called for it, and he ended up being one of the better parts of this movie.

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Con: Jane (-2pts)

I actually really liked Jane (Mary Holland). It was clear that her parents thought less of her than they did of her two sisters, and it was both amusing and sad to see how far that went. Nonetheless, this character was incredibly cheerful and optimistic, which made it hard not to like her. She was always just trying to have fun and be included, and it made her an easy character root for.

My problem with the character was how the filmmakers resolved her story. After seeing how poorly she had been treated for so long, and how she was always stuck in her sisters’ shadows, I wanted a satisfying conclusion to her story. Something that showed her parents apologizing, or showing their guilt, or really showing anything that acknowledged how she had been neglected for most of her life. She was far from being a main character, so this did not impact my enjoyment of the movie much, but I thought Jane’s story should have had a more satisfying conclusion.

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Pro: Harper's Family (+6pts)

In addition to how much I enjoyed Jane, I also enjoyed the heated sibling rivalry between Harper and Sloane (Alison Brie). I had a pretty big hunch that Sloane would end up being the catalyst for spilling Harper's secret, and I had a pretty big hunch that she would be a big part of the movie's climax. Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong, but the rivalry added some extra tension and unpredictability that I thought made this family feel a lot more complex than it would have been without her. While I liked the sisters' dynamic with one another, I also liked both of Harper's parents.

Harper's mother (Mary Steenburgen) was slightly naive when it came to Harper inviting her friend for the holidays, and it made for some entertaining moments. She was clearly accustomed to her wealthy lifestyle, but she was warm and welcoming nonetheless, and all of these things came together to make for a pretty entertaining character. Harper's father (Victor Garber) was a wealthy man who was campaigning to become mayor. Thus, while his reputation was always important to him, his campaign meant that he was especially emphasizing the importance of maintaining the image of his family's perfect life. This was what resulted in Harper wanting to keep her secret, which was the driving force behind the entire plot of the movie. The whole family came together to form an effective group of characters for a dramedy such as this one, and they provided a number of emotional and impactful scenes during this movie's climax.

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Con: The End (-4pts)

I will keep this brief, because I realize I went kind of long in a number of other sections in this review, and this issue sort of ties into my issues with Harper anyway. Harper was a pretty unlikable character, and I have already gone into that at length. A pretty significant side-effect of this was that it also made it hard to care about whether or not Harper and Abby would worked things out, and for me personally, I actually wanted them not to. Setting aside the question of whether or not they did, I thought the way the filmmakers concluded Harper and Abby's story felt justified.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (80pts)

I saw the trailer for this movie and I thought it looked interesting. It was a familiar, holiday story, but from a fresh perspective, as it was about what a gay couple might have to deal with over the holidays. I liked Harper's family, as I thought they provided plenty of comedy, tension, and drama to make this an effective dramedy. I also liked Abby's story and her friendship with Riley—I even wanted these two to end up together instead of Abby and Harper. Then there was Dan Levy who was a comedic force in this movie, but he also had his share of dramatic moments that I thought he did really well with.

Unfortunately, this movie's biggest problem was Harper. She was just very unlikable—to an annoying degree—and it made me lose interest in whether or not her and Abby sorted things out. I also did not think her and Abby had great chemistry together, as I thought Abby and Riley had a lot more. It was not a great holiday movie, but it was entertaining, it had plenty of heart, and it was a fresh take on a familiar story.