The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
I have been waiting for the opportunity to watch Happiest Season since it was first announced and we saw the lovely pride filled photos of the cast. A huge fan of Mackenzie Davis, Dan Levy, and rom coms, it’s made for me…. except for one big problem. I hate Christmas. But don’t worry, even for the grinchiest of hearts like me, Happiest Season can make your smile grow at least two sizes.
Clea DuVall directs her second feature film with the hands of a seasoned pro, her years of work on sets clearly coming to the forefront. From the beautiful storybook style opening to the grand comedic sister fights reminiscent of scenes from Meet the Parents, she manages to tick all the right boxes for making a future classic holiday rom-com, and yet it never feels old or borrowed, but instead refreshingly crisp. Her ability to constantly 'other' Kristen Stewart’s Abby in these grand family scenes never feels forced, and the awkward tension of being the closeted outsider in this home is palpable.
Blissfully loved up in New York City, Harper (Davis) gets swept up in the magic of Christmas and invites Abby home for the holidays to meet her family. Unexpectedly, the Christmas hating Abby says yes, meaning Harper has to confess to a lie. She’s not come out to her family and they think Abby is coming for Christmas as her sad orphaned friend.
There are few things worse than meeting the parents or spending Christmas with someone else’s family for the first time. Having to do both whilst lying about who you are is excruciating, and the plot doesn’t spare the punches. I personally don’t celebrate Christmas anymore for a myriad of reasons, and Duvall along with writing partner Mary Holland manage to capture the bitter sadness of remembering all the Christmases past and the pain of even attempting to recapture that magic that often leaves you disappointed. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ll likely be able to write down the entire plot before you watch the film, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. There’s all the right beats of both genres and the excellent timing of a fantastic cast make it all seem just perfect.
HAPPIEST SEASON Is Exactly What It Says On The Tin
HAPPIEST SEASON (2020)
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This is an A+ cast. Each actor is perfect for their role, with each character impeccably constructed. Stewart and Davis shine with wonderful chemistry. I’ve been desperate to see Davis in another comedic role ever since her scene stealing part in What If?. It’s also nice to see Stewart relax into a role; known for her more intense indie performances, she seems to have real fun here and imbues the perfect amount of charming tenderness into Abby. It’s hard to not instantly fall for her or be on her side through the film, as she is our eyes and ears into this terrifyingly perfect holiday home.
Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber play Harper’s parents who are eager to portray the picture-perfect all-American family in a bid for Garber to run for mayor, and along with them we get Alison Brie and Mary Holland as sisters Sloane and Jane. Despite being one of the lesser-known actors in the film, Holland steals every scene she is in. She has all the best lines and I found myself constantly laughing out loud at her especially. Hopefully other viewers will fall in love with Mary as much as I did, and we’ll get to see much more or her in future. There are too many great comedic actors in the film to mention, but Levy as Abby’s best friend and Aubrey Plaza as a spurned past lover are equally flawless – both in their characters’ writing and their delivery.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Poppy, fun, full of Christmas spirit, but never saccharine. It’s not the classic box of hits you’d expect (no Wham, thank god), but Tegan and Sara’s ‘Make You Mine This Season’ or Anne-Marie’s ‘Think of Christmas’ are sure to become modern classics. Hell, they even had this old scrooge bopping along.
What a house. If you had to describe a picture-perfect Christmas, it would be the house in this film. The elegance, the precision, the stiffness – all tied together with a glittery but eco-friendly ribbon. Set decorator Shanna Worsham has truly gifted us a wonderful setting. I have to also discuss the wonderful costumes from Kathleen Felix-Hager. Along with the stellar writing of the characters and the brilliantly acted roles, the costumes of each player in the film are spot on. You can tell so much about each of the sisters in how they are styled and how they present themselves, and even outsider Abby looks crisp and sharp through the film. If I could have one wardrobe from a film this year, it might be this one.
Happiest Season is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s silly, fun, heartfelt when it needs to be, and it feels like a real representation of a queer experience. However, like every good rom-com, it also feels completely unrealistic all at the same time. I smiled, I laughed, I swooned, and a heart to heart between Stewart and Levy’s characters had my eyes starting to water. Maybe, just maybe, it made me believe in the power of Christmas again.
HAPPIEST SEASON Premieres on HULU (11.26.20)