Happiest Season

At the Movies Blog

The cast of Happiest Season.

It was after Christmas when I finally got around to seeing this movie on Hulu called Happiest Season. But hey…my neighbors still have their Christmas lights up, so it’s probably not too late for a review of a Christmas movie.

I was excited to see a rom-com with a good cast, especially after seeing what an NPR/LA Times critic said, praising everything about it. I should have realized, this is the same guy that knocked Green Book — the best movie of 2018. He claimed all kinds of bizarre things about the movie and racism, yet he had no problem with how the lesbian characters or any other characters, were portrayed in this idiotic film. 

The studio is pushing this as the first holiday rom-com to feature LGBT characters. Uh, okay. So what? We had a teen rom-com featuring a gay character with Love, Simon a few years ago (and it was terrific). So if a studio wants to tout a film, like with animated pictures Coco (first to highlight a Latino family), or this year’s Soul (first to have an African-American protagonist), it helps a lot that both those movies are good. But hey…the LGBTQ community deserves crappy, Hallmark style movies too, I suppose.

Part of the problem this film has is buying the premise. Just as a film like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner wouldn’t pack the punch today that it did in 1967, it’s hard to believe parents would be so upset that one of their three daughters is a lesbian. Of course, the dad is running for mayor, so…Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) thinks he won’t want any controversy that could derail the campaign. Not sure if she realizes, Dick Cheney had a gay daughter and was Vice President on a Republican ticket.

Harper also admits to Abby (Kristen Stewart, who has the perfect angst and scowl for this role) as they drive to the parents’ home for Christmas, that she never did come out of the closet to her folks.

The bummer for Abby is that she had bought a ring and was planning to propose. When she tells her best friend (Dan Levy, a very funny performance, even if it’s the same character as Schitt’s Creek) that she’s going to ask the dad’s permission, you can sort of guess where it’s all going. Well, actually, you can’t. I certainly didn’t predict it would get this stupid. My wife and I were both so surprised at how stupid Harper must have been when, the parents “suprirse” her by inviting her old boyfriend to a dinner at a local restaurant. Why wouldn’t you just get up and say to your mom (Mary Steenburgen), “This isn’t appropriate. I’m going to excuse myself.” And then later at a bar/event, Harper decides she wants to stay and party, even though Abby feels neglected and isn’t having fun. So what does Harper do? She stays there, and even closes the joint, ending with a hug outside with her old boyfriend. Okay, if that character is going to do that, how in the world are we supposed to root for these two women to work it out? We want the relationship to end, and for Abby to hook up with a sweet girl that also used to date Harper (played against type by Aubrey Plaza).

The father, Ted (Victor Garber) is fine as he was written, but the mom (Mary Steenburgen) is just cartoonishly ridiculous. As are many scenarios in the film. For example, both of Harper’s sisters are trouble. One of them is married to an African-American man (the parents are fine with that, so perhaps Harper is wrong about how they’ll react to her female partner). Their young twins are cute, but act like Omen babies. They never smile and are kind of evil. And the sisters behave so meanly to each other, again…it’s all cartoonish and not the least bit realistic. If it were, Harper would have never even wanted to return home for the holidays, let alone bring the love of her life. An example of how you can do those types of characters and make them realistic, involves another Mary Steenburgen movie. In Parenthood (1989), Steenburgen has to deal with her brother (Rick Moranis) being passive-aggressive as he brags about how smart his son is. You don’t make things over-the-top, unless it’s hysterically funny. And to predictably have us find out that their marriage isn’t perfect (and how it’s revealed), is utterly ridiculous. As is the fight that follows during the white elephant gift exchange.

The other sister, Jane (Mary Holland, who co-wrote this movie with director Clea DuVall) is the pariah of the family, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. Perhaps it’s because she’s spent 10 years working on a Harry Potter type novel. 

Oh, and since a backstory has to be given to Abby, it’s the fact that her parents died and she has nowhere else to go for Christmas. That means we’re supposed to laugh (or even believe), that mom Tipper (Steenburgen), would keep calling her “orphan” or introduce her to everyone that way. Uh…why doesn’t her daughter pull her idiot mom aside and tell her that’s not appropriate either?

The writing in this is just terrible. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t laugh a few times. Daniel Levy is funny as the friend. He’s covering Abby’s pet sitting jobs, possibly killing fish, and tracking everyone’s whereabouts via their phones. Not only are his moments funny, but when he has to give a tough love speech to Abby, it’s wonderful and brings tears to your eyes. It makes you wonder why that level of dialogue couldn’t have been written for the rest of this dreadful script.

A perfect example is…when we find out Harper did the same thing to her old girlfriend in high school (Plaza) regarding their relationship, but in a rather vicious way, you tell yourself that makes more sense at the high school level. It’s probably hard for most teens to come out. But the way she did it and what she did…is just so awful, you wonder why Plaza would be anywhere near her, or why any of us watching this would want Harper to find happiness now.

So many little things in the movie aren’t done well, either. Audiences are supposed to feel horrible that Abby is asked to take the family photo, instead of being in it. Well, if she was introduced as merely a friend/roommate, that’s to be expected. Heck, even if they did say they were lovers…I’m guessing family Christmas photos don’t include the person a family member happens to be dating at that time.

There’s a race competition during an ice skating trip that’s dumb. There are scenes when Abby is accused of shoplifting that is ridiculous. Just so many unbelievable scenarios, cliches, and everything just ringing false. All the characters are one-note, too.

I did laugh when Levy tries to act straight, telling another guy he lifts weights and is asked how much he benches (which reminded me of the funny scene with John C. Reilly in Boogie Nights). I thought of a few other funny movies when Steenburgen, upon catching the two women in the same bedroom and is told “I must have been sleepwalking.” Steenburgen now has the distinction of being the only actor to ever have to deal with “sleepwalking” in two different films (Mike Birbiglia, the ball’s in your court!).

And I have to take another star away from this rating, because they didn’t utilize the talents of Ana Gaysteyer. She had a great line about her son getting arrested for “exotic animal smuggling.” Give her more lines. Hell, let her write some funny lines. At the very least, they should have worked in her adorable Christmas song Sugar and Booze. It’s the best new Christmas song in the last 25 years (Sorry, Ms. Parton). 

Most people probably won’t mind the sitcom type of elements of this movie, so I’d recommend they check it out. It just didn’t work for my wife and I.

2 stars out of 5, and I’m being generous. Oh, and speaking of being generous, I’ll write the lyrics of Gaysteyer’s great song, so if you haven’t heard it, you can still enjoy it (as you will for the rest of her CD).

SUGAR AND BOOZE by Ana Gasteyer

I love snowmen and turtle doves in twos/Holly, ivy, mistletoe can take away my blues

Kris Kringle and his reindeer friends/They endlessly amuse

But the best part of the holiday is…sugar and booze.

I love mittens and skating on the ice/but I glide right through December mixing…naughty with nice.

So pour a nip into that nog/And let it light your fuse

‘Cause the best part of the holidays is…sugar and booze.

Wake up baby, don’t you hit the snooze/Just forget the headlines and the news

Pop a cork, put on your dancin’ shoes.

Gimme honey and hooch and I’ll give you a smooch

And let’s give those devils their due.

I like cider but keep it spiked with rum/What good’s a little drummer boy with no…

Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum?

Come New Year’s Day we’ll all resolve/Those extra pounds to lose

But now’s the time we let it rip with…sugar and booze.

Once a year we all deserve some fun/Life is short, so why live like a nun?

Grab a fork, there’s damage to be done.

King Wenceslaus hit the sweets and the sauce

So gimme gin and cinnamon buns.

I like cider, but keep it spiked with rum/What good’s a little drummer boy with no…

Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum?

Come New Year’s Day we’ll all resolve/Those extra pounds to lose

You can keep that tray of crudites/Honey, I refuse

Martinis at lunch/Pastries and punch

We’ll have Hendricks for the gentiles

Manischewitz for the Jews. 

‘Cause the best part of the holidays is…sugar and booze.

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