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Film / Happiest Season

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"Everybody's story is different."

"Yesterday I never felt closer to another person in my entire life, and now I don't know her."

Happiest Season is a 2020 romantic dramedy film directed by Clea DuVall, written by DuVall and Mary Holland, and starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis.

The story follows a lesbian couple, Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Davis), as Abby accompanies Harper to her family's house for Christmas. Abby's plan to propose on Christmas morning is complicated by the fact that Harper has not yet come out to her family, a well-off, conservative White Anglo-Saxon Protestant clan comprised of proper parents Ted (Victor Garber) and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen), uptight ex-lawyer and "super mom" oldest sister Sloane (Alison Brie), and misfit middle sister Jane (Holland). Instead, they think Harper has merely taken pity on her orphaned roommate and brought her along so she won't spend the holidays alone. Things are further complicated by the fact that Ted is running for mayor, which places extra pressure on Harper to keep up appearances.

In addition, Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza have roles as Abby's best friend John and Harper's ex-girlfriend Riley, respectively.

The film was released on Hulu on November 26, 2020.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amicable Exes:
    • Implied. By the time of the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, Sloane seems to have main custody of her and Eric's children, but Eric still pops up on the family Instagram feed, implying that they split amicably and he's still present in the kids' lives.
    • Harper and Riley fully patch things up after the disastrous Christmas party but they'd also been civil for years before that as well.
  • Bad Liar:
    • Abby is a terrible liar. She stutters and fumbles details when put on the spot, resulting in a backstory of "an appropriate amount of boyfriends" and having recently broken up with a milkman.
    • John is just as bad when he pretends to be Abby's ex-boyfriend and even states he bench-presses 1,000 pounds, while flirting with a party guest.
  • The Beard: John briefly and unconvincingly pretends to be Abby's ex-boyfriend.
  • Bickering Couple, Peaceful Couple: Abby & Harper (bickering over being in the closet at Christmas), Sloane & Eric (hyper-perfect nuclear parents). Subverted because while Abby & Harper are having significant problems due to Harper being in the closet, they're still together, while Sloane & Eric's 'happily married' facade is just that, since they've been separated for months and are divorcing.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Harper is a lesbian who is not out to her old-fashioned family, but has brought her girlfriend Abby home for the holidays (under the pretense of being her orphaned roommate). Harper's parents try to get her back with her high school boyfriend Connor, who represents Harper's closeted life in a small conservative town. This is juxtaposed against her relationship with Abby, whom she is hiding; Abby in turn represents Harper coming out and being true to herself around her family.
  • Bland-Name Product: Abby pulls up a ridehailing app named... RideHail.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Ultimately, Abby is not wrong to be hurt by having to re-closet herself and pretend she's "just roommates" with the woman she loves, and Harper is also not wrong to be frightened about coming out to her family, as even though they do turn out to be accepting, she had no way to be sure they would. And she had a VERY valid reason to believe that they wouldn't be.
  • Butt-Monkey: Abby just can't catch a break.
  • Camp Gay: John, who's gay, has effeminate mannerisms and speaks with noticeable vocal fry.
  • Casting Gag: Openly gay actor Victor Garber plays Harper's straight dad, whom she's reluctant in coming out to as a lesbian.
  • Closet Gay: Harper isn't out to her fairly old-fashioned family, so when she brings her girlfriend Abby home for Christmas, the two have to pretend to be platonic friends. Prior to the film she had planned to come out to them but didn't, and now has to keep up (heterosexual) appearances because her dad is running for mayor of their conservative small town.
  • Coax Them Out of the Closet: Harper hasn't yet come out as a lesbian to her family, afraid that doing so would anger her parents and jeopardize her father's campaign for mayor in their small conservative town. Her girlfriend, Abby, reluctantly agrees to pose as her roommate when they visit Harper's family. For much of the film, Abby is unable to convince Harper to tell her parents the truth. This comes to a head during the family's Christmas party when Harper's sister spitefully outs them, which Harper denies, causing a heartbroken Abby to walk out.
  • Coming-Out Story: The main conflict of the movie is that Harper is still in the closet to her family. Abby initially decides to end their relationship after Harper publicly denies being gay, but John reminds her that admitting you're gay is a frightening, literally life-altering decision and the outcome is different for everyone: Abby had open, understanding parents who accepted her, but John's father threw him out of the house and didn't speak to him for over a decade.
  • Commonality Connection: Riley reaches out to Abby and the two bond because Riley had a bad experience dating Harper in high school, and could relate to Abby hiding their relationship and feeling left out.
  • Creepy Twins: Magnus and Matilda do everything in tandem, spend most of their screentime staring emptily at their family, and speak in flat monotone.
  • The Cynic: Abby's friend John is against marriage and calls bullshit on the situation Harper has created.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Ted introducing his daughters. Journalist Harper is a "powerhouse", ex-lawyer and devoted mother Sloane is a "super mom", while The Unfavorite and aspiring author Jane... ensures the internet works around the house.
  • Dead Pet Sketch: John's subplot. He's covering for Abby's petsitting and unwittingly kills a fish, so he has to go to the store to replace it. We don't see if the owner catches on.
  • Delayed Family Acceptance: After Harper reveals to her family that she's a lesbian and that Abby is really her girlfriend almost everyone rallies around her, however, her father Ted initially doesn't react well to her news until Tipper explains to Ted why Harper had kept quiet about her sexuality fearing his reaction. He eventually has a change of heart and accepts his daughter's relationship.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Caldwells are this, albeit somewhat unwittingly. Ted and Tipper seem to have only genuinely wanted the best for their daughters, but they way they expressed it caused the girls to always feel like they were competing with each other for parental affection and approval. Thankfully, they realize this by the end of the film and realize they have to change their ways to be a happy family.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Played with, but ultimately subverted. Ted has sunk most of the family savings into his mayoral election campaign, and is courting a big donor to help cover the rest. The woman tells him she'll help as long as Harper, who's just been outed as gay, adopts a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Ted, who now realizes how much Harper has suffered due to hiding who she is, turns the offer down and tells Tipper they'll manage it somehow.
  • Exact Words: Connor asks Harper if the reason they broke up was because she was interested in someone else, saying he felt there was always something she wasn't telling him. Harper truthfully replies there wasn't anyone else, but doesn't deny the second part. He's so relieved he doesn't notice.
  • Flowers of Femininity: A few examples.
    • Jane earns the disapproval of her mother for wearing a bold outfit that includes a floral patterned blouse, which contrasts to her family's neutral-toned and preppy appearance. She is also a sweet optimist.
    • Averted with Tipper, who is the image of feminine immaculate perfection, and confesses that she hates flowers.
  • Flying Under the Gaydar: Harper's Camp Gay friend John pretends to be straight as he's visiting her family. To do this, he acts over the top in the opposite direction.
  • Forced Out of the Closet:
    • Riley and Harper secretly dated in high school. However, when their schoolmates found one of Riley's love notes to Harper, the latter framed it as Riley being in love with her, outing her as a result.
    • Sloane spitefully outs Harper as a lesbian to their family after catching her with Abby.
  • Freudian Excuse: Abby dislikes Christmastime because it was something she looked forward to sharing each year with her parents, who died ten years earlier.
  • Gay Best Friend: Played With. Camp Gay John is Abby's best friend, provides plenty of comedy, and doesn't have much of a plot beyond being a rock solid friend to Abby, but he's also a fully realized supporting character. And of course, the protagonist he's elevating is also a lesbian.
  • Gayngst: Harper suffers from anxiety over her family rejecting her if she tells them she's a lesbian. When she goes to spend Christmas with them, she pretends she's straight and makes Abby, her girlfriend, go along with it (as her "roommate"). She overcomes this over time, and does come out.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The wealthy donor Ted is courting is a woman named Harry.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: The feminine Stepford Smiler Tipper, who reveals she wants to take karate but never did because it wasn't "elegant" and hates flowers.
  • The Grinch: Abby never celebrates Christmas since the death of her (Christmas-loving) parents.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Sloane and Eric have an ideal Nuclear Family on the surface, but they've actually been separated for months and Eric is having an affair. Like Harper, they didn't tell Ted and Tipper for fear of ruining their family's image.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Not everybody has a good experience when coming out, and we have to be understanding towards those who have difficulty doing so.
    John: What did your parents say when you told them you were gay?
    Abby: They told me they loved me, and supported me.
    John: That's amazing. My dad kicked me out of the house and didn't talk to me for thirteen years after I told him. Everybody's story is different. There's your version and my version and every version in between. But the one thing that all those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words. When your heart is racing and you don't know what's coming next. That moment's really terrifying. And once you say those words, you can't un-say them. A chapter has ended and a new one has began. You have to be ready for that. And you can't do it for anyone else.
  • Hate at First Sight: 'Hate' is a bit strong, but Abby and Sloane do not get along at all initially.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?:
    • Abby has to try this when they first get to Harper's parents' house. She didn't have much time to prepare for it.
      Tipper: Do you have a boyfriend, Abby?
      Abby: No. But I have, 'cause... I have, had many. Uh, but not too many. An ap... propriate amount. I actually just went through a breakup.
      Jane: Oh, no...
      Abby: Yeah, with, um, he was a, he was a milk... man.
    • John tries to pull this off after arriving at the Christmas party pretending to be Abby's ex-boyfriend. Since he's a rather effeminate gay man, it isn't particularly convincing, particularly when he claims he bench presses 1,000 pounds.
    • Harper's childhood room has a closet door that is filled with posters of vaguely hunky men.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Subverted. The Caldwells are aghast to learn Abby is an orphan and assume she must've had a hard life — Jane even hugs her and calls her brave — but as Abby tells them, her parents died when she was 19 so she had a largely normal upbringing.
  • Heel Realization: Harper's parents have one by the end of the film when they realize their pursuit of perfection has burdened all three of their daughters with impossible standards and left them feeling like they had no chance of being loved if they didn't do everything exactly right.
  • Hidden Depths: Harper hasn't yet come out to her family because she's afraid of their reaction. It seems justified given how they talk about Harper's gay friend (and unknown to them, first girlfriend) Riley making a poor 'lifestyle choice'. But her sister Sloane is married to a black man and they have two children, which is a subtle indication the family may not be as closed-minded as Harper thinks. It turns out that while neither Ted or Tipper are particularly thrilled by the way they learn the truth (a fight in the middle of their Christmas party), they do quickly come to terms with it and accept both Harper's sexuality and Abby.
  • History Repeats: In high school, one of Harper's friends found a love note Riley had written to her. Harper panicked and insisted she wasn't gay, which got Riley ostracized. During the Christmas party, she does the same thing after Sloane outs her in front of everyone, leading Abby to walk out. For bonus points, Riley herself is at the party and can only look on in disbelief that it's happening again.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Sloane walks in on Harper and Abby kissing and is openly gleeful about how much Harper's lying is going to hurt their parents...only for it to quickly be revealed that she and Eric are divorcing and keeping it a secret.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Since Harper isn't out to her parents, they make several comments throughout the movie that unknowingly sting her and Abby, such as when they dismissively recall Riley's "lifestyle choice" and Tipper ribs that Sloane is probably the only daughter who's leaving her with grandchildren at this point (also a double-whammy to Jane).
  • Ivy League for Everyone: An older version. Eric was top of his class at Yale, Riley is doing her residency at Johns Hopkins, and Abby is getting her PhD at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Harper's parents are this unknowingly, as, since she hasn't told them she's both gay and in a relationship with her "roommate" Abby, they keep subtly hinting she should get back together with her ex-boyfriend Connor.
  • Meet the In-Laws: With a rainbow twist. Abby is meeting her girlfriend Harper's family for the first time, except said family doesn't know she's a lesbian, let alone that Abby is her girlfriend.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Jane, daughter number two, is her parent's least favorite apparently due to not having a steady job (like Harper) or a husband and children (like Sloane) that Ted and Tipper can brag about.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Harper's current girlfriend Abby (missus) strikes up a friendship with Riley (ex) to Harper's horror. Riley and Abby bond over the troubles of dating Harper while being out to each other visiting a gay bar.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Harper is a journalist.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: The three sisters. Perky Jane is nice, uptight Sloane is mean, and Harper is in between.
  • No Party Given: Despite his run for mayor driving much of the campaign, Ted's personal politics or party are obfuscated beyond the implication that a lesbian daughter could be bad for his image.
  • Nuclear Family: Exploited. Eric, Sloane, and their twins are the ideal family on the surface, and Sloane's parents are all too happy to use this wholesome image for Ted's mayoral campaign.
  • Obligatory Joke: Abby at one point ducks into a closet.
  • Obnoxious Entitled Housewife: Sloane, a judgemental "super mom" who is shameful about her career and separation who finds fault with her siblings and tries to go about outperforming her sisters to impress their parents all too high standards to the point where she outs Harper, her sister, as a lesbian.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Harper has this reaction when, after she and Abby argue, she sees Abby walking down the street with Harper's ex-girlfriend Riley.
    • She later has a much bigger one during the Christmas party: she reflexively denies she's gay and that Abby is her girlfriend, then sees Abby standing in the background.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: Ted and Tipper are trying to get their daughter Harper back with her high school boyfriend Connor, but it's a no-go as Harper is a lesbian.
  • One Head Taller: Mackenzie Davis is 5'11", and towers over 5'5" Kristen Stewart.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Abby's parents were very open-minded about their daughter's sexuality and took her coming out very well. John reminds Abby that this isn't a universal experience.
  • Overcome Their Differences: The Caldwells all end up working out their issues and getting along by the end of the film. It's a Christmas-themed romcom, what did you expect?
  • Parental Abandonment: Abby lost both her parents when she was 19. She plays up being an orphan while visiting Harper's family cheerfully, but later quietly cries over her loss, which still affects her.
  • Parents Suck at Matchmaking: Granted, Ted and Tipper have no idea their daughter Harper is already in a relationship, and with a woman, but their pushing her to get back together with Connor, who Harper was dating in high school, is a little bit much.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: The crux of Harper's plea to Abby at the gas station before she leaves. It works.
  • Queer Romance: It's a holiday romance story centering around a lesbian couple.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • More of a quiet anger, but during the Christmas party, Abby finally snaps and tells Harper they're over. Only an impassioned speech from Harper about her dysfunctional family gets her to reconsider.
    • Jane's painting being destroyed in her sisters' fight can be seen as this for her.
  • Running Gag:
    • Various people think Abby had a stereotypical "orphan" upbringing, not quite grasping that she was almost twenty when her parents died and that while she is technically an orphan, she had a normal family life until then.
    • Tipper keeps taking photos to post on the Instagram she started to support Ted's mayoral campaign. The end credits shows the posts following the family over the next year.
    • Jane continually talks about an epic fantasy novel she's been writing for ten years, though she gets very little encouragement. In the denouement, it's been published and is successful.
    • Tipper trying to get a Christmas family photo together, but something happening to "ruin" it.
    • John tracking people, including Abby. In the climax of the film, Harper is able to find her before she gets too far away because John taught her how to track her.
  • Sad Clown: Jane's overt cheerfulness throughout the film, at first seems to be just her personality. That is until her painting is destroyed, and she reveals how she really feels about her position in the family.
  • Sadistic Choice: Harper, a lesbian who's still closeted to her family, is terrified of having to choose between (presumably) losing them versus losing Abby.
  • Shipper on Deck: Tipper is rather aggressively aboard the Harper/Connor train.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Harper's parents have created a culture of competitiveness between their daughters.
  • Token Minority: Sloane's husband Eric is black, the only man of color in the film.
  • Transparent Closet: When Abby tells John that Harper's parents doesn't know that she is gay, he wonders if they have ever met an lesbian before. True enough Riley (Harper's first girlfriend) doesn't pause for a heartbeat before she recognizes and tries to bond with Abby over their shared experience of dating and being in love with a closeted Harper.
  • Troll: Matilda drops an expensive necklace in Abby's bag while she's distracted, which gets her accused of shoplifting and heightens tensions between Harper and her family.
  • Trophy Child: Ted and Tipper treat their daughters as things to show off, especially now that Ted is running for mayor.
  • The Unfavorite: Of Ted's and Tipper's daughters, Jane is essentially this. Tipper even admits towards the end of the film that they "gave up" on her during preschool, essentially at the age of 3-4 years old, ironically making her the healthiest of the girls, as she didn't have to live up to their high expectations.
  • Visual Pun: While hiding from Harper's mom, Abby, an out lesbian, ducks into a closet.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: By next Christmas, Harper and Abby have repaired their relationship and are engaged; Jane has signed a publishing deal with John's company and is a New York Times bestselling author, Sloane and Eric have amicably divorced, Tipper has been granted her yellow belt in karate, and Ted was elected mayor even without the help of the big contributor he was courting throughout the movie.
  • White Sheep: Jane, she is considered the family weirdo and is ignored by her parents for not reaching their high expectations. She is also shown to be the nicest of her sisters and to be friendly to Abby and more open-minded and chooses to ally herself to Harper after she is outed and shows her parents unconditional love despite it being onesided for most of her life.