Brian’s Exploratory Christmas Endeavor ’20: Happiest Season

Happiest Season poster.png

I was thinking about the way in which we are funneled by The Algorithm into our own isolated realities when I went to look up the Rotten Tomatoes reviews for Happiest Season on Hulu. You see, I was under the impression that the proverbial ‘everybody’ had a problem with this movie because it failed to stick the landing when commenting on lesbian relationships.

The thing is, when I think back now, I only saw that in two or three places. And they were mostly just snarky memes, not detailed arguments. And even if they had been detailed arguments, that’s still all they are: arguments. Opinions. The Algorithm has this way of making us thing the tiny personalized micro-zeitgeists in which it keeps us encapsulated are, in fact, the zeitgeist we are all living in. And it’s a great big lie.

It isn’t the first time I’ve brought this up in proximity to the show, and it won’t be the last, but while I am among the left-iest left-winger people you will find, I am also part of the growing backlash to this bizarre, well-meaning, and ultimately awful culture on the left which seeks to tear down everything which is not a perfect, flawless, grad school-approved take on capital-i Issues.

Not to get too political here, but I believe the reason the American Left cannot get anything done and the reason they alienate the American centrists and right-wingers into feeling repelled by said Left (such that they’ll believe just about anything if it seems to implicate the Left as bad people) are the same. It comes from a good place: let’s be better people. But then it gets weird and aggressive.

You, you are not as better a person as I am; you are therefore bad! You have used the wrong word! Bad! You aren’t yet familiar with the new, many terms which have come into fashion among Left-Twitter to describe aNd UpLiFt marginalized peoples! Bad! You made a joke! I will refuse to understand that jokes are by their very nature meant to be dismissed, and I will tweet at a major corporation to get you fired for a joke you made ten years ago and have since grown from and apologized for!

Canceling” isn’t the only product of this holier-than-thou mentality. It is just the most public-facing one. These criticisms–if you can call them that–about media like Happiest Season however, are for me the most exhausting. They are the most needlessly emotionally-eroding effect of left-wingers’ pursuit of purity at all costs.

Can’t we just enjoy our fucking Christmas movie? Does it have to speak to The Lesbian Experience, and to do that in a flawless, perfect, scholastically-informed, universally-applicable way? Can’t part of The Lesbian Experience in America be having decent Christmas comedies just like straight people do? And for that fact to not be a very big deal? Can’t “the world is finally getting used to gays and lesbians, such that movies which center them kinda feel just like ordinary movies, rather than political statements” be a good thing that we all embrace, because it means society is moving forward?

I mean, fuck!

Anyway, I liked this movie a lot. And according to Rotten Tomatoes, so did everyone else.

I didn’t realize until after I descended upon the Wikipedia page for Happiest Season that this had originally been made as a theatrical picture, but was moved to Hulu due to the pandemic keeping the theaters hobbled. That makes a lot of sense, given the star-studded cast.

And while it might be too mean to call them B-list actors, I also don’t feel like anyone here but Kristen Stewart has really broken through to the true A-list world. Still, I like all of these actors. Every last one of them.

Mackenzie Davis has done some really nice work in some of my household favorites like Blade Runner 2049 and that San Junipero episode of Black Mirror where…well, you should just go watch that. It was also great to see Alison Brie, an actor who deserves every part Hollywood can throw at her. Mary Steenbergen and Victor Garber did perfectly well at being the hoity-toity upper-crust parents, and Mary Holland, who was brilliantly funny as the daughter who they’ve given up on.

“The perfect family”

The only two other notables for me were Aubrey Plaza–who came off here more animated and mature than in anything I’ve seen her in before–and Dan Levy who ran away with any scene he was in. As is usually the case with him, his presence here just makes everything better. In fact, he probably accounts for half this film’s comedy.

While it has the vibe of your typical modern PG-13 comedy, it doesn’t go crazy firing off jokes, and that approach really works here, because it gives the drama room to breathe.

There is a very real issue at the heart of this movie’s conflict, which is the nature of being in the closet. And as Kristen Stewart’s Abby points out to Mackenzie Davis’s Harper, when one person is still in the closet, they are effectively dragging their partner back into the closet with them.

This is a real and genuine problem in LGBTQ relationships. Coming out is a huge deal, and it is a high-risk, high-reward scenario, the end of which grants a person tremendous freedom to live their life transformed, possibly with some new disadvantages, but with the first-time freedom to live their identity openly.

Staying in the closet has cost people their lives. Coming out has saved lives. And if anyone reading this is in the closet themselves, please have a look at the It Gets Better Project, run by Dan Savage and his husband Terry.

Dan Levy is wonderful as ever.

The stakes in this film were pretty manufactured. I have a hard time believing that this family, outside the Deep South, would really worry about the father’s political prospects if it should turn out that one of their daughters was a lesbian. But it’s all right. This movie isn’t perfect, and it never claimed to be, and it is not worth getting upset over.

This movie’s heart is very much in the right place. Its script is very funny and relatable. Its characters’ many confessions near the end are very sweet and get me right in the Christmas Zone of my brain.

I will admit to being a little let down that Aubrey Plaza’s character wasn’t utilized in the way I think we all thought she was going to. I was ready for one of these characters to be a surprising, soft villain as her counterpart became the movie’s clear, true protagonist. But maybe that says something about me.

I was looking for a Christmas movie to dole out some clear-cut punishments and rewards. But, as satisfying as that would have been, it wouldn’t have been in the Christmas spirit, and more than that, it wouldn’t have been in the spirit of solidarity and support for people who are still struggling to find their way out of the closet. I understand why the film went the way it did.

I would have liked to see more Aubrey Plaza in this movie, but it’s fine. I guess.

This is a good movie. I hate to wield my Anecdotal Gay Proxy Rank Card like my being the son of a lesbian (read: lots of lesbians) makes me or my mothers the ultimate authority on this stuff. But it’s hard not to want to when you see well-intentioned, straight allies trying to beat this movie up for its imperfections when it and its lesbian writer-director was clearly trying her best, and its fans, LGBT and otherwise are so pleased with it.

Where is this anger coming from? Why can’t you just be happy there is an LGBT-forward, wide audience-facing Christmas comedy, and it’s actually good, and people are actually talking about it and accepting it alongside all their other holiday viewing? Why do you insist on finding ways to undermine it? What kind of ally are you really being when the only thing you can think to do with this movie is tear it apart? Why is that your first response? And, um, also, did you actually watch it, or are you just jumping on the internet dogpile?

Yes, it’s a good movie. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea in the way that Judd Apatow comedies, Will Ferrell Comedies, Melissa McCarthy comedies and so forth aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s okay to have an opinion. That’s all we do here at the Dayton Upstairs Recording Studio.

But could you not be such a dick about it? For Christmas? For the gays? Pour moi?

GBU Christmas-Adjusted Rating: 8/10

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