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“Happiest Season” Film Review

Holiday movies can be very hit-or-miss. Regardless, their delightfully cheesy storylines are a must during this time of year. And while cinematic holiday cheer is always welcome, the holidays themselves can also be a very complex time for many. Clea DuVall’s latest film, “Happiest Season,” is a romantic comedy that explores those complexities while relishing in the warmth and comfort that comes from experiencing love. Whether it’s familial love, a loving friendship, or true love in a relationship, “Happiest Season” is a film that welcomes all of it with open arms.

At the heart of this film is an adorable couple named Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). Abby is not a huge fan of Christmas and plans on spending the holidays alone, but Harper feels an abundance of joy during this time of year and desperately wants Abby to feel the same. So — following a tour through Candy Cane Lane that goes awry after being caught sneaking on a stranger’s roof to see the lights — she invites Abby to come home with her for the holidays in the thrill of the moment, and Abby excitedly says yes.

Dan Levy and Kristen Stewart in “Happiest Season” | Photo credit: Hulu

However, the next morning, Harper appears visibly off while talking about going back home. No matter, Abby goes about her day, which includes picking up a ring. She plans on proposing to Harper the old-fashioned way on Christmas Day, including asking for her father’s blessing, which her best friend John (played to perfection by Dan Levy) can’t believe she’s doing, hilariously exclaiming “way to stick it to the patriarchy.” 

As it turns out, though, there’s more going on during this trip home for the holidays than just Abby’s planned proposal. Harper reveals on their drive there that she actually never came out to her parents, and they have no idea that Abby’s her girlfriend. Instead, they think that she’s her roommate. Couple this with the intense and quirky dynamic of Harper’s family, and you have quite the chaotic Christmas gathering waiting to unfold.

Stewart and Davis both shine in this film, with incredible chemistry to boot, but each of the supporting characters brings so much to the table as well. Levy and Mary Holland, in particular, steal every scene that they’re in. Especially the former who has truly impeccable comedic timing. As someone who also adored him in “Schitt’s Creek,” I can’t wait to see everything Levy does in the future. He’s an exceptional talent who brings wonderful energy into every scene that he’s in. Even Aubrey Plaza, who plays Harper’s ex-girlfriend, savors each second on screen. Though her character’s appearances are brief, she truly makes an impact whenever she’s there.

The performances become far more layered once Harper’s family comes into the fold as well. Holland — who portrays Harper’s sister, Jane — is lovely as the wholesome one of the group. Whether she’s fixing things around the house for her parents or passionately sharing the intricate details of her wild fantasy novel that’s in the works, she’s another standout from this immensely talented cast. Not only that, but she highlights the stark contrast between each member of the family in the film. On the opposite end of Jane’s bubbly personality is Sloane (played by Alison Brie), an intense former lawyer and the oldest of the three sisters. Then there’s their parents, Tipper and Ted (played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber, respectively), who have a more conservative outlook as to what family should look like. 

Photo credit: Hulu

After being introduced to everyone and watching their dynamic unfold, it’s clear to see how Tipper and Ted’s ideology affected each of the children as they grew up. The notion of perfection took priority over creating space for each of the daughters to be their authentic selves, which is explored with care and confidence by DuVall, who serves as both writer and director. She balances drama and comedy with such ease, pulling the viewer in with each scene and investing them even further into the love story at its core. It’s clear that this story means a lot to her, and that passion radiates through every scene.

There’s a comfort to her filmmaking that makes this such an enjoyable watch as well. Top it off with exceptional performances, and “Happiest Season” is guaranteed to warm so many hearts during the holidays. Although there are a couple of scenes that sometimes feel comedically out of place, by the end, you can’t help but fall in love with what DuVall brought to life here. The story, performances and feel of the film will certainly be a hit among viewers — well beyond the holiday season, too. “Happiest Season” is the most joyous holiday film in years, and I can’t wait to see what DuVall does next.

“Happiest Season” premieres on Hulu on November 25. Make sure to keep up with the Shuffle shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Featured image credit: Hulu

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