Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays. Whichever works. For those who didn’t do their homework, such as me, this is not only a lesbian romance movie set on Christmas; it’s apparently the first of its type because every actor who plays someone who’s LGBTQ in this movie is LGBTQ in real life. Welcome additional touch there.
The movie begins with a sequence of painted portraits of Abby (the endlessly talented Kristen Stewart) and Harper’s (the always likeable Mackenzie Davis) story, and most romance stories begin with the two characters first meeting, so my sister and I both thought this was telegraphing the whole thing right there and we skipped over some of it. But that wasn’t the story. It’s Christmas and it’s a season Abby dislikes. I bet even April Fools Day is a preferable holiday for her, because she has a sad history involving her late parents around it. She and Harper have been dating long enough for Abby to have moved in with her. Helps that Abby has her best friend John (the nobody-like-him Daniel Levy) to give her some spunk whenever she’s down. John’s also offered to look after the pets Abby sits for some buck as Abby’s offered the chance to go to Harper’s place for the season. But maybe April Fools Day will turn out a bad holiday for Abby too, because that holiday involves pranks and fibs, and Harper reveals on the way there shamefully that she lied when she said her parents, Tipper and Ted, knew she was gay and had a girlfriend.
Harper’s not yet ready to confess, but promises she will after the holidays, because her father is going through a lot right now with a political campaign, and the overall house is, well, big and festive but a little intimidating. Abby supremely reluctantly agrees, putting herself back in the closet to abide by her girlfriend’s wish.
As a gay guy who’s gone through a heartbreaking story similar to Abby’s in this movie but without the same kind of bliss, this is a film that really shook me. I won’t make you feel uncomfortable with the details, but let’s just say I’m a prime example of relationships really burning you out. Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber play the parents and at first I thought, “Okay, they don’t look like the intolerable type.” But as we meet Jane (Mary Holland) and Sloane (Alison Brie), Harper’s sisters, we see how high everyone holds each other, and we learn more and more not just about why Harper lied in the first place, but what kind of person Harper really is.
And to be honest, a fair amount of this is predictable. For me. These movies are still being slowly accepted by the mainstream public so I can imagine it’ll be brand new for certain people. The movie went how I expected, but what was more important was how it was told, and that rested on the shoulders of Stewart and Davis, and they are both magnificent. Stewart was really born to be in the movie business. Every smile, every expression, tells a story of joy, pain, or confusion perfectly. Davis is right for this kind of role, as a character who doesn’t want anyone harmed but doesn’t know how to go about that. I watched this movie, and the main reason for the high A- grade was how reminiscent it was for me, which was all thanks to the actors.
The truth is, when I got my first boyfriend, it took me a while to come out to my family about it. I was even nervous about him introducing me to his friends as his boyfriend. I managed to muster the courage eventually. I was kind of like Harper for about three weeks after we first began our relationship. Our relationship wasn’t conspicuous because we’d often just hang out together instead of walking around everywhere. And then as things got more serious, I finally just confessed to my friends. It was frightening but I knew they’d support me, and I was right. But I know so many others aren’t as lucky. The coming out story truly is something that might never not get suspenseful on the screen.
It’s not perfect. There are some formulaic moments that could’ve tried harder to be edgier. Brie as Sloane just wasn’t believable, despite the hardships she’s going through. The biggest flaw is I’ve never met two children in my life as Shining-twin-girls creepy and sociopathic as Magnus and Matilda, even with a mother like Sloane. I found them laughable. Did they ever hear about the naughty and nice lists? Do they not see how much fun everyone else was having? Do they not see how spoiled they are? Do they have any friends at all? Why on Earth do they do what they do in the movie? Magnus and Matilda really brought the flick down.
Even though it goes how I expected, Happiest Season is not your average feel-good fruit cake because it doesn’t sugarcoat pain. And it doesn’t go completely as expected. You actually wonder if it’s going to be a movie that will go a different direction, because the more it goes on, the more things aren’t so black and white.
If you like this, I’d try Love, Simon