If American holiday movies were a pack of decorated sugar cookies, the ingredients would read: ice-skating scuffles, sibling rivalry, multi-racial in-laws, too-convenient happenstance, snobby white people, a mangled Christmas tree, cocktail-pounding, teary revelations and an after-credits montage showing how everyone got everything they ever wanted.
The only difference is the packaging. Happiest Season sugar cookies include a lesbian shape along with the reindeers and stars, and are sold in a fancy papier-mache box at Whole Foods.
Before I get to the plot: lesbians, if you do watch Happiest Season, please let me know if y’all really kiss like Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis do in this film, and if so, can you then explain how it could possibly be enjoyable? Thanks.
Kristen and Mackenzie are Abby and Harper. Abby reads as the more committed lesbian, because while the jury will forever be out on Kristen Stewart’s acting, gay she can play. Her hair is edgy, her voice is scruffy and she seems ready to get into it with anyone who questions her choices. Meanwhile, Mackenzie, whose ripped character from Terminator: Dark Fate no doubt adorns the dorm walls of many a co-ed exploring her sexuality, is here suppressed under a mousy wig and bland wardrobe.
Harper sets up the conflict by insisting Abby shirk her pet-sitting commitment to join her at her family’s home for the holidays. So not only will we get the expected hijinks of a dysfunctional family coming together for Christmas, we’ll get to laugh at casual animal abuse, a super-fun movie trend of late.
As the two are pulling up to every holiday movie’s version of a rich white family’s house, Harper drops the bomb that she has lied to Abby for their entire year-long relationship about being out to her tight-ass conservative parents. Call that Uber NOW, Abby. But no, Abby has an emerald-cut proposal’s worth of love to give Harper on Christmas, so she agrees to closet herself along with Harper and pretend they are platonic roommates. To make sure we are suffocated with the metaphor, Abby is not only made to sleep in a basement storage room but literally gets trapped in a closet.
Had the parents been cast with holiday movie vets who can do comic cluelessness – like John Lithgow and Diane Keaton – we might have believed the set-up. But instead we have Victor Garber and Hollywood’s go-to mom-who’s-kept-her-figure Mary Steenburgen, both actors with too much innate limousine liberal in their comportment for us to ever believe they wouldn’t get what’s going on. Style is more important in these movies than plot, and as Abby’s gay sidekick points out, Steenburgen looks fabulous in those expensive dresses and Wintour bob.
About the sidekick: it’s jarring to see Daniel Levy in a throw-away role when he’s now hotter career-wise than any of these actors. Whenever he and Stewart are together all you can think about is a better film with them as the leads.
But everyone does go to cozy bars and drink a lot, and god do we all miss that. So as long as you don’t expect the lesbian angle to have any bearing on the formulaic plot, and you’re not lactose-intolerant, eat up Happiest Season and enjoy the full belly. I did, and now all that cheese is going where nature intended.
Addendum: If you’re reading this you are by default my online family (sucker!), and as I’m not the polite queer who steers clear of confrontation at family gatherings, here’s the deal, Joe.
Forgive-and-forget is a strategy that needs to be reevaluated in American culture, and thus the movies that reflect it.
Abby, an art student who lost her parents as a teen, is positioned as an outsider, the less-fortunate ‘other’. She agrees to the deception and does everything she can to fit in, swallowing any protest she rightfully deserves to voice. Yet all she gets for compromising herself is increasing dismissal and abuse by Harper and her entire nasty family, right down to the 8-year-olds who frame her for theft. (Cruelty and comedy are a delicate mix, and only Steenburgen can handle it. The woman deserves some kind of award for her ceaseless efforts to keep willfully dumb screenplays from falling into the pool and drowning.)
When Abby has finally had enough and is ready to walk away from Harper and her Wasp’s nest, the movie despicably uses the gay sidekick to talk her out of it. Levy gives the ‘assimilation’ argument so many gay male characters have to give in cowardly American movies. “Coming out is different for all of us, and Harper will get there in her own way. Just give her time.” OK, but when emotional abuse is involved, how much deference does the abuser deserve?
When Abby sticks to her guns by replying “I want someone who’s already there”, the movie gives us a brief glimpse of a healthier perspective on what constitutes a happy ending. And then dashes it in the next scene.
Threatened with abandonment, Harper finally comes out to her parents in a display for Abby, and is forgiven. This is followed immediately by Harper and her two sisters forgiving their rigid, conservative parents for an entire lifetime of mental abuse. Who made this movie, the Republican National Committee?
In the real world, Harper’s parents may have hugged it out for the sake of calm, but they would have fallen right back into their harsh, myopic view of the world as soon as the lesbos were out the door. Whether reaching across the table or across the aisle, this is not acceptance, and movies that show characters becoming enlightened about queerness in the blink of a teary eye look even dumber than they are.
Go back to getting James Marsden and Amanda Seyfried stuck on a Ferris wheel, Hallmark, and leave us gays out of it.
More cranberry sauce, anyone?