|Directed by||Clea DuVall|
|Story by||Clea DuVall|
|Edited by||Melissa Bretherton|
|Music by||Amie Doherty|
|Box office||$2.1 million|
Happiest Season is a 2020 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Clea DuVall, from a screenplay written by DuVall and Mary Holland. With an ensemble cast consisting of Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Mary Holland, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen, the film follows a woman who struggles to come out to her conservative parents while she and her girlfriend visit them during Christmas. DuVall has said the film is a semi-autobiographical take on her own experiences with her family.
Produced by TriStar Pictures, the film was released in the United States on November 25, 2020, by Hulu, and internationally on November 26, by Sony Pictures Releasing and Entertainment One. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise for the cast. The film won a GLAAD Media Award in April 2021 in the "Outstanding Film - Wide Release" category.
Abby Holland and Harper Caldwell are a couple who have been dating nearly a year. Abby has disliked Christmas since her parents passed away, so Harper spontaneously invites Abby to celebrate the holidays with her family in her hometown. Abby sees this as the perfect opportunity to introduce herself to Harper's parents and propose to her on Christmas morning. However, on their way to the Caldwells' house, Harper reveals she lied to Abby about coming out to her parents previously; fearing doing so would interfere with her father's campaign for mayor, she doesn't want to come out to her family until after Christmas. She asks Abby to pretend to be her straight roommate for the holiday, to which Abby reluctantly agrees.
At the Caldwells' house, Abby meets Harper's father, Ted, her perfectionist mother, Tipper, and her wacky artistic sister, Jane. The family welcomes Abby as Harper's "orphan friend" who has nowhere else to go for Christmas. Abby becomes uncomfortable, especially when she meets Harper's exes, Connor and Riley. During the visit, she begins questioning how much she knows about her girlfriend when she sees Ted and Tipper's high expectations and Harper's competitive relationship with her older sister, Sloane.
Ted is trying to impress a possible donor from the city council to contribute to his campaign, which Abby unwittingly jeopardizes when Sloane's children put an unpaid necklace into her bag during an outing to the mall. Believing she is a shoplifter, Ted and Tipper think it might be better if they keep Abby away from upcoming social events. From this point, Abby feels even more like an outsider. She also learns from Riley that Harper has publicly denied her sexuality ever since she was a high school freshman, which makes Abby worried about the future of their relationship.
At the Caldwells' annual Christmas Eve party, Abby, having tired of her current situation but feeling trapped, is relieved when her good friend John arrives unannounced to pick her up. Harper privately begs her to stay and as they are about to kiss, they are caught by Sloane who prepares to expose their relationship to the family. However, it turns out, Sloane has a secret of her own: she and her husband, Eric, are getting a divorce. The sisters get into a public fight, ruining the party. Sloane outs Harper being a lesbian, which Harper denies immediately. Heartbroken by this, Abby leaves the house. John follows her outside, where the two talk about their stories of coming out to their respective families: Abby's parents were loving and accepting, while John's dad threw him out of the house and didn't talk to him for thirteen years. John reminds Abby that coming out can be terrifying for gay people, but has nothing to do with Harper's love for her.
After realizing that her fear of rejection caused her to hurt Riley and will cause her to lose Abby, Harper finally tells the truth to her parents, confirming that she is a lesbian. This inspires Sloane to reveal her own secret and even Jane tells her parents how neglected she felt throughout the years. Despite all this, Abby still departs with John, feeling that she has been too hurt to give Harper another chance.
Tipper confronts Ted and details the emotional pain their daughters have clearly experienced as a result of their parenting choices, and how Tipper herself has felt constrained by their need to present as a 'perfect' family.
Harper goes after Abby to apologize, confessing that she truly loves her and wants to build a life with her. Touched by her words, and with encouragement from John, Abby forgives her and they share a kiss.
Ted apologizes to his daughters for making them feel they always had to meet his standard of perfection. Then he gets a phone call from the donor he's been trying to impress, who will support him only if Harper suppresses any details about her personal life. Ted rejects the offer. The Caldwells then take a family picture, with Abby included this time.
One year later, Abby and Harper are now engaged, Jane has become a bestselling author with her fantasy novel, The Shadow Dreamers, and Ted has won the mayoral election. On Christmas Eve, the family goes to the cinema to watch It's a Wonderful Life. As the movie starts, Abby and Harper smile at each other lovingly.
- Kristen Stewart as Abby, Harper's girlfriend
- Mackenzie Davis as Harper, Abby's girlfriend
- Alison Brie as Sloane, Harper's eldest sister
- Aubrey Plaza as Riley Johnson, Harper's ex-girlfriend
- Dan Levy as John, Abby's best friend
- Mary Holland as Jane, Harper's middle sister
- Victor Garber as Ted, Harper's father
- Mary Steenburgen as Tipper, Harper's mother
- Ana Gasteyer as Harry Levin, a potential campaign donor
- Jake McDorman as Connor, Harper's ex-boyfriend
- Burl Moseley as Eric, Sloane's husband
- Sarayu Blue as Carolyn McCoy
- Timothy Simons as Mall Security Ed
- Lauren Lapkus as Mall Security Crystal
- Carla Gallo as Angry Homeowner Lady
- Michelle Buteau as Trudy
- Jinkx Monsoon as Em K. Ultra
- BenDeLaCreme as Miss L'Teau
- Jenny Gulley as Ashley, Harper's Friend
- Caroline Harris as Kelly, Harper’s Friend
- Dominique Lawson as Levi, Carolyn's assistant
In April 2018, TriStar Pictures acquired the worldwide distribution rights to the film Happiest Season, with Clea DuVall set to direct from a script she co-wrote with Mary Holland, and production by Marty Bowen and Isaac Klausner through their Temple Hill Productions, with co-financing from Entertainment One, whose theatrical arm will handle UK and Canadian distribution, and with Sony Pictures handling distribution elsewhere through the TriStar label. DuVall said that "in a lot of ways, this movie is autobiographical" and she wrote the film to see her own experiences depicted on-screen.
In November 2018, Kristen Stewart signed on to star in the film, with Mackenzie Davis joining the cast in January 2019. The remaining cast was rounded out in January 2020, with the additions of Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Dan Levy.
Principal photography began on January 21, 2020, in Pittsburgh and wrapped on February 28, 2020, shortly before the film industry was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in December 2020, Aubrey Plaza revealed that various people on set, including Kristen Stewart tested positive for COVID-19 around the time they were filming.
Happiest Season was released digitally in the United States on November 25, 2020, by Hulu. It was previously scheduled for a theatrical release on November 20, 2020, and later rescheduled to November 25, before it was purchased by Hulu due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Samba TV estimated that 416,680 U.S. households watched the film in its opening weekend, the best debut in Hulu's history.
The film was still distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Releasing International, under its TriStar Pictures label, while Entertainment One Films handled distribution in the United Kingdom and Canada. The film's original soundtrack was released on November 6, 2020, through Warner Records and features songs by Anne-Marie, Bebe Rexha, Shea Diamond, Sia, Brandy Clark, Carlie Hanson, and Tegan and Sara among others.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 83% based on 200 reviews. The website's critics consensus reads, "A jolly good time with heartfelt performances and more than enough holiday cheer, all you'll want for Christmas is Happiest Season." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+ and described it as "a smart, heartfelt comedy whose small flaws are easily blotted out by bigger charms." Reviewing the film for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips gave it 3 out of 4 stars, saying that, despite his general distaste for movies revolving around a secret, "It works. It's built. And the people seem real, or at least reality-adjacent."
Happiest Season won the 2021 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film (Wide Release) and received Special Recognition for its soundtrack.
- "Candy Cane Lane" - Sia
- "Jingle Bells" - BAYLI
- "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" - Caveboy
- "Christmas Moon" - Lucie Silvas
- "Nothing Rhymes With Christmas" - Ana Gastyer
- "Jingle Bells" - Traditional
- "Up on the Housetop" - Traditional
- "Angels We Have Heard On High" - Ken Halford and Christian Hutton
- "Only Time of Year" - Brandy Clark
- "O Little Town of Bethlehem" - Mike Strickland
- "We Wish You a Merry Christmas and All That Jazz" - Jason Farnham
- "Jazzy Jingle" - Michael Mandel
- "Bringing Christmas Home" - Teresa James
- "Blame it on Christmas" - Bebe Rexha and Shea Diamond
- "Must be Santa" - Hal Moore and Bill Friedrichs
- "Remember" - Brian Page
- "GVO (Good Vibes Only)" - Tyler Shamy
- "Silent Night" - Traditional
- "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" - John Swanson
- "My Favorite Time of Year" - Mike Goudreau
- "O Christmas Tree" - Patrick Tuzzolino
- "My Shortlist for Christmas (Is You)" - Pajamaramas
- "O Holy Night" - Traditional
- "Deck the Halls" - Traditional
- "Think of Christmas" - Anne-Marie
- "Make You Mine This Season" - Tegan and Sara
In December 2020, DuVall said "I would love to do a sequel. I mean, I have a couple of ideas. We all had such a great time making the movie that we were talking about it then. But it was also just like, who knew if anybody would care about the movie or not? So I definitely am more than open to it." In May 2021, Mary Holland said that the sequel is in "early stages".
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