“Happiest Season” Review: Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis Are at Their Best in an Instant Holigay Classic

The last Christmas I was in the closet, I came home from a full day of managing complicated family dynamics at multiple gatherings — broke, exhausted, and lonelier than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I stood in front of my shelf of go-to movies for when I was feeling blue, and it just intensified my sadness. Love, Actually. Bridget Jones’s Diary. Love and Basketball. You’ve Got Mail. The Last Holiday. The American President. I was never going to find love like that because I was never going to be able to tell anyone I loved women. I crawled under my covers, put on my most well-worn holiday DVD, and fell asleep listening to Thurl Ravenscroft croon about “Your heart’s an empty hole, your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grrr-inch!”

I hadn’t thought about that night in a good long time, but Clea DuVall’s new queer holiday rom-com, Happiest Season, brought back that memory and kicked my heart in the teeth with those feelings like they happened last weekend.

Happiest Season is the story of Abby, played by Kristen Stewart, and Harper, played by Mackenzie Davis, an exquisitely happy lesbian couple on the cusp of engagement who find themselves at home with Harper’s family for Christmas, kind of by accident. Abby hates Christmas, and has since her parents died when she was 19. Harper loves it, and so do her mom and dad, played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber. Harper wants Abby to love Christmas too, but her pitch for the holiday is not great. She stops the car on the side of the road on the way to her parents’ and confesses that she’s never come out to them, that she told them Abby was her roommate, and that she wants Abby to lie about being straight too. At first Abby wants to go home, but it’s just five days, and she’s very in love, and so she agrees to Harper’s desperate and truly terrible plan.

With a set-up like that what you probably expect next is hijinks. And yes, there’s silliness afoot, and plenty of hilarity, and at one point I actually had to pause the movie because I couldn’t hear the dialogue over myself cackling — but Clea DuVall manages a real Christmas miracle in Happiest Season by capturing the distinctly queer and quietly heart-wrenching experience of not being able to share your real self with the people you love most, when all you want to do is shout from the tallest chimney in town that you’ve found your person, that you’re in love. Harper is torn between preserving the image her family has of her and the needs of her girlfriend, and over the course of the film it becomes apparent to both her and Abby that she’ll never be able to attend to that second thing as long as she’s tethered to her family’s expectations. But she truly does not know how to extricate herself.

For Happiest Season to work, Abby and Harper’s relationship has to feel worth it. It has to feel lived-in and grounded, sexy and familiar, comfortable and settled; and it does. Stewart and Davis have easy, sparkling chemistry, and, frankly, Abby gazes at Harper with such intense and prolonged desire and affection, she gives Marianne and Héloïse some real competition in 2020’s Gayest Staring Contest. The reason Abby and Harper have to feel so real is that Clea DuVall and her co-writer Mary Holland push their relationship right to the edge. If Abby was your best friend, you’d be in your car on your way to Pittsburgh to rescue her; and if Harper was your best friend, well, she’d be so embarrassed she wouldn’t be telling you what she was doing.

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Let me linger, like Abby’s lesbian ogling, on best friends for a second. One of my main complaints about queer movies and TV is always: Where are the queer best friends? Even in films and series with gay leads, everyone else is usually straight, straight, straight. And fine, the world is full of straight people, but there are just some experiences that do not translate. What Abby and Harper are going through, as individuals and as a couple, are singularly queer situations, on multiple levels. And so DuVall and Holland made the brilliant decision to cast scene-stealers Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza in the roles of queer friends. Happiest Season would not succeed without them. They provide some of the biggest laughs and some of the most needed comfort and reality checks to both characters.

Harper’s family, too, is perfectly cast. Mary Steenburgen, in particular, is both a hoot and a dagger. Alison Brie and Mary Holland play Harper’s sisters. Brie is Sloane, the oldest and formerly most overachieving sister. And Holland is Jane, the breakout star of the film, the overlooked nerd who just wants to fit in. Harper, it turns out, isn’t just in the closet because she’s scared; she’s in the closet because her Instagram perfect family is a tangled mess of dysfunctional dynamics that all need therapy.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt anything on-screen as deeply as Harper sobbing to Abby, “I know that’s messed up, but they’re my family!”

One of the reasons we return to our favorite Christmas films over and over is because the formula is familiar, the tension is manageable, and a happy ending is assured. If Joan Didion was right — and I think she was — that we tell stories in order to live, it’s no surprise that we tell the brightest, most cheerful, most hopeful stories we can think of in the coldest, darkest time of the year. Happiest Season succeeds as a Christmas movie because it hits all those beats we’ve come to rely on to infuse us with seasonal spirit and guide us through the frigid days. And it succeeds as a lesbian movie because it’s gay in a deep and irrefutable way, and when you queer a formula, it subverts a genre.

The film is not without its misses, including, of course, that it’s very white both on-screen and behind-the-scenes, something Kayla noted about DuVall’s 2016 film, The Intervention. And I think, to be honest with you, there are things that might hit too hard and close to wounds that aren’t yet healed for some queer viewers, or might seem completely outrageous to people who didn’t come from towns like Harper’s, like mine.

When I came out, my grandparents had the hardest time with it, my grandmother especially. She didn’t understand it. She couldn’t even talk about it. For a very long time, even after I said it out loud to them, if I wanted to be close with my family — and I needed my family — I had to not talk about the gay part of myself, which was suffocating because being gay informs everything I do and everything I am. But my grandma kept working on it. And I kept working on her.

A few years ago, for Christmas, she sent me a photo album of me and my sister growing up. At the duck pond, at the beach, at the middle school dance, at college graduation, me and my sister side-by-side. Near the end, my sister got married and had a baby who grew into a pre-teen, and I came out and traveled around the world and moved to New York City. I wondered, as I neared the back cover, how it would end, and I let out a little choke-sob when I flipped to the final page, and on one side was my sister and her husband and son, and on the other side was me and my girlfriend (now-wife). I was 38 and it was the first time my grandmother had ever acknowledged Stacy not just as a part of my life, but as a part of our family. It’s the best gift anyone’s ever given me.

Happiest Season won’t be for everyone, but there are gays in this world hiding under the bed like Kevin MacAllister in Home Alone who will watch this movie and run out into the snow like he did, and yell out into the night, “I’m not afraid anymore! You hear me? I’m not afraid!” And there are gays like me who haven’t been afraid for a long time, but still crave the warmth of a familiar love story on a cold winter night.


Happiest Season lands on Hulu on November 25th. 

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1062 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. i’m looking forward to this, but i realized one of the characters in this film is “Harper’s ex-boyfriend”. please tell me they’re not gonna go down this cliche route? i’m apprehensive about watching.

      • i’ve never seen a christmas lesbian rom-com whether it includes coming out or not (& backed by a major studio!), so nah… i’m not concerned about that part.
        just curious about how they play the ex-bf part and hoping it’s not disappointing there.

      • well, the storyline of a male interest entering a lesbian’s life seems to be a pretty common thing – ranging from completely offensive, in where they actually hook up, to the more innocuous-seeming, playing up the attraction/flirtation to where the audience feels that something *could* happen. either way, it’s invalidating to the character’s sexuality, and definitely not something i want to experience in what should be a light hearted, feel-good film

          • Yeah, like I get that the trope of inserting a male interest into a sapphic love story for the purpose of pandering to potential male viewers is one that needs to die in a fire, but I kind of doubt that’s the case in a movie directed by Clea DuVall?

          • yea, i never said anything about simply “existing” or that no queer women have ever slept with cis men – i think that’s a totally off-base interpretation of what i stated. i clearly said male interest – as there’s some sort of *interest* there. obviously this happens a lot in films where there are lesbian characters; i’m simply expressing that there could be room for this movie to fuck it up. would be super happy if this ex-boyfriend just *existed*!

        • thanks for being gentle here everyone. i 100% get where the original question is coming from based on many movies I’ve seen, and also appreciate that i think other ppl in this thread were watching out for biphobia and/or not shaming queer women in general for past, present, or future relationships w men.

        • I think he was kind of an unknowing “beard” or pretend boyfriend since Harper wasn’t out at the time. Kind of the way that people will assume what ever guy friend you hang out with is your boyfriend, but will call an actual girlfriend your bestie. A see what they want to see type of thing. That might also be a triggering thing for some people.

  2. I have been super apprehensive because I hate “if you love me, you wouldn’t hide me” stories and think that Harper not telling Abby in advance what she was walking into is a far bigger sin than not being out to your family. But I trust you Heather, so excited to go into this with an open heart! The trailer also opened my heart a little bit – my best friend since childhood is a queer man and I’m really excited for the wiw/mlm solidarity representation.

    • Totally agree re. apprehension about the central plot point, but willingness to have my mind changed. And if I’m being totally honest, Dan Levy’s priceless facial expressions are the main thing I’m looking forward to in this film.

    • I feel like I’m in the minority here… but I hated it. Harper treated Abby HORRIBLY. She made her go back into the closet, she never defended her, she didn’t include her, she told her she was being suffocating, and she ditched her to hang out with her ex. I wished that the coming out storyline wasn’t so intrinsically tied to it, because that’s its own important story — but that doesn’t give Harper free reign to be a terrible partner. Was I the only one rooting for Abby and Riley? Their chemistry was way better and the drag scene was great.

      • I agree completely. It’s totally fair to not be out to your family, but it’s not ok to repeatedly lie to your partner, and put them in a horrible situation without giving them a proper choice in the matter. I felt like their relationship was toxic, and I thought Abby had WAY more chemistry with Riley and I was hard-core rooting for them to get together. I really thought this was going to be the rom-com trope of ‘girl starts movie with problematic partner, but begins to see the problems with her relationship and gets out and finds a healthier relationship’ and I was HERE FOR IT.

        • [I haven’t seen the film—probably will eventually.]

          FWIW, the NPR review agreed: (para.) “if the film had been edgier” it would have gone the route of hooking up Abby and Riley.

      • THANK YOU! I‘ve read some reviews and they all love it and I just really, really don‘t. It was terrible on several fronts. First, I actually expected a „classic“ rom-com just with lesbian leads finally and it was really a coming-out film. Then, Harper was absolutely horrible as a girlfriend and I also didn‘t think they had chemistry at all. I was so rooting for Abby and Riley and hoped that would be the part where she would realise that she doesn‘t want a partner who treats her badly and a toxic relationship. I actually felt betrayed when the „happy“ ending they gave us was them staying together. The obly highlights of this film were Abby‘s wardrobe and Dan Levi.

      • I totally felt this too. I have to disagree about the chemistry – I think Abby had chemistry in general but not with Harper! – and I think Harper’s behaviour was unforgivable. I still enjoyed parts of the movie but I think it was definitely problematic

  3. I am apprehensive about the film because the worst situation an ex put me in was “pretend to be str8 and that we are just friends”. And that was such destructive shit to put on someone that 1) I don’t want to relive it in a film 2) to even call the film light-hearted or a rom com with that context feels icky and 3) why do some queer comedies have to rely on people-assuming-queer-people-are-straight tropes for laughs? Can’t we do better than that?

    So yeah this movie is prolly not the “feel good holiday movie” for me.

    But when someone remakes Die Hard as a queer women & nonbinary action film starring tessa thompson and jen richards I AM ALL IN!!!

      • It also had the “The gay fear of coming out is completely unwarranted, because it’s 2020 already and we love the gays now” type of vibe that implies that we are exaggerating things like hate crimes and discrimination.

    • I agree. I really didn’t like this movie. It felt like something that would have been made 20 years ago. The relationship was toxic and I hate that they end up together.
      Can’t we have some new stories that don’t completely revolve around coming out and unsupportive families growing?
      It felt like a queer movie made for straight people.

  4. I preordered this movie on iTunes as soon as I could (we don’t have Hulu in Canada) and I can’t wait to make a night of it this weekend. Hoping this becomes a new annual Christmas movie tradition.

  5. Wow I am definitely one of the people that Heather mentions this movie is not for. I hated it. It felt like punishment to watch it. Everything that wasn’t a Dan scene or an Aubrey scene was full of the casual cruelty I grew up with, with awkward “mild” homophobia played for laughs. There was very little comedy or romance for me in this “rom-com”. There were maybe 10 minutes out of the 90 minute runtime where anyone was anywhere close to happy, and I did not feel, as Heather did, that Abby and Harper’s relationship was made to feel worth the terrible, quiet violence of the experience of being constantly cut down by Harper’s family and never protected, even as you would a friend, by Harper.

    I did think that Kristen Stewart and Dan Levy turned in great performances, but the rest of it was extremely not for me.

    Also warning for a casual running joke about neglect-caused pet death, which really felt great on top of everything else.

    • This is exactly how my wife and I felt about the film… so glad you put it into words! It depicted a sad/unhealthy relationship and just wasn’t much fun to watch, even though Kristen is very talented and managed to squeeze a few laughs out of nothing (and Dan is a treasure). Wish she’d ended up with Aubrey Plaza’s character – they had actual chemistry. (Or even Alison Brie!)

    • I totally agree, and thank you for saying this so well. I felt really bad for Abby’s character. She compromised on her own values and sense of self so much, and for what? I also didn’t like the running joke about her being an orphan the whole time (which was never addressed for being so problematic???). In so many ways, she made herself so small for this relationship, which I think would have been really toxic for me to see growing up when I didn’t have a healthy sense of my own values in relationships.

    • Yep me too! I didn’t like it.

      I love Xmas movies. I really wanted to like this.

      However:

      The casual, vicious comments about Abby’s parents right from the start.

      The way Harper literally stranded Abby in a basement and ignored her. Then got angry when Abby rightfully voiced her concerns after days of mistreatment.

      The whole family was a toxic mess. I wanted to reach into the screen and remove Abby, Jane and Riley from that nightmare. I wish Dan had bundled them all into his car and they drove off into the sunset.

      The ending where they all turned on a dime and suddenly were kind, warm people? If I had been in Abby’s shoes, after that first night I would have been gone. Let alone the horrendous party scene at the end. Surely this is not a family anyone would want to be a part of? The love interest included.

      Overall, I feel like they made a big mistake focusing the film on this relationship. This whole film should have been the condensed first scenes of the movie showing Abby’s toxic ex and her cruel family. The rest of the film should have been her and Riley falling in love and going home to a warm family Xmas filled with ridiculous, low stakes misunderstandings, a touch of physical comedy and a picture book ending.

  6. I have such mixed feelings about this movie. I will watch it again at some point, and I am glad it exists. HOWEVER, *SPOILERS*

    I understand and accept Harper’s reluctance to come out to her family. I have family members similar to Harper’s and also struggled with the fact that, like Harper, I have past BFs and am more feminine, so it was a big surprise for me to come out as gay, and it was really hard afterwards. But I can’t get over the trust issues in this relationship – the fact that they were at the point of getting engaged and Harper hadn’t told Abby about her parents? That Harper thought it would be okay to put Abby through that Christmas? It’s okay to not be out to your family. But you owe your partner that conversation, and give them the choice. Harper had very few redeeming qualities, and I was sad how she treated Abby.

    I did love the Riley/Abby parts. Riley and Abby were both mature and it sounds like Riley had parents with a similar perspective, came out, and still deals with the aftermath of being out in that community. Aubrey and Kristen had great chemistry and would have loved to see that develop into a mature, healthy relationship.

  7. Spoilers ahead! be warned!

    It’s interesting, reading comments on social media and elsewhere about this movie from gay people, I really don’t think Harper is getting a fair shake. I don’t say this because I at all want to excuse her lying- obviously that is not good at all, and I totally understand why her lying to Abby to the point of basically leaving her no out into this Christmas is not good.

    However- I think people are really really not giving a fair shake to how difficult this whole situation is for Harper- and that includes Abby. Should Harper have lied? No. But considering how Abby later treats conversations about her coming out, I do wonder how much she really understood how scary this situation is for Harper (and how that might have impacted Harper not wanting to tell her she didn’t feel like she could tell them over the summer). Abby’s parents reacted well to her coming out, and that’s great- but when we have time to see the full dynamic of Harper’s family at play, are we really supposed to be surprised that Harper has hangups about this specific issue?

    From what we’re told (if not shown, since this is just a Christmas movie after all) Harper and Abby have a remarkably good relationship otherwise, and seeing how her family actually works? That seems pretty impressive to me. The Riley situation, while also definitely not good or a good look for Harper, also just confirms to me how much this situation was fraught- especially considering the comment Harper’s mom makes over dinner about her ‘lifestyle choice’. As someone who also grew up with parents who turned out to be supportive but definitely made offhand comments like that prior to it, I really understand how much that can make the support a surprise.

    And actually, again, I don’t really think Abby responds fairly when Harper has just been outed by her sister to not only her family, but all of their friends in a way intended to harm. She panics and I don’t really blame her. It’s not easy to come out when you’re that scared, and it’s really not that easy to do when your sister has just outed you to a room full of your parents friends, a political donor your father is trying to impress, and this party is as much about showing off to them as it is anything else.

    Like- I don’t know. I don’t think Abby gets a great time in this movie, and certainly not a great Christmas, don’t get me wrong. I actually think Harper’s biggest mistake in this movie is not protecting her more or standing up for her more, and it’s a valid criticism of her (and as is evident in good writing, I can understand why she’s so wrapped up in her own anxieties and patterns of behavior with her family to not realize how she’s failed in that way). I understand her pain and her frustration. However, I’m seeing a lot of people say Harper is terrible and I really don’t think that’s fair either. It is totally fair for Abby to decide she doesn’t want to be with someone closeted. It really is. I have no problem with that. However, I don’t get the part where people watch this movie and don’t understand exactly why and how Harper got herself to where she is, and how Abby isn’t the only one dealing with a significant other who doesn’t really get the situation.

    Anyway, this was rambling, but I think Harper deserves a little more kindness than she’s getting.

    Overall, I liked this movie. It makes me think of But I’m a Cheerleader quite a bit in the sense that it’s funny, but there is an anger at the situation itself (and that this is a situation gay people are ever put in) roiling just under the surface. It’s that mocking of the genre and hint of anger underpinning the whole situation that makes it work for me. However, like Heather, I also totally understand why this movie will absolutely not work for a lot of gay people. There are definitely parts of it that hurt in ways I wasn’t expecting.

    Anyway, Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart are really something, if nothing else.

    • I agree with some of your points. Harper’s very real fear about the whole situation would be very stressful (like many others here I have personal experience of that).

      I’m not willing to give her the benefit of the doubt though. For three main reasons.

      First of all, Harper invited Abby there. Abbey didn’t just turn up out of the blue, resulting in Harper having to mitigate potential problems on the fly. She invited, then purposely drove her there.

      Secondly, once they got there Harper made no effort to include Abby in family stuff (seriously why did she invite her?). Harper stranded Abby miles from home, in a place she didn’t know, with complete strangers and ignored her most of the time, including big social events.

      Third, Riley. All those years of moving in the same social circles and she never apologized to Riley? Even suggesting that Abby was more important than Riley and she could never do that to her too?! She never admitted she was wrong for that. At the end a halfhearted handshake for still traumatized Riley.

      Regarding the different coming out experiences, of course that would inform Abby’s actions somewhat. But to me that’s not relevant to the story. Mainly because Abby did not once try and force the issue. She spent most of the movie making herself smaller, obedient and compliant. Despite the constant attacks she suffered. She hid herself, told the lies she was asked to tell. Put up with it and kept trying to be kind and build connections to them all throughout.

      Apparently I have a lot of feelings about it!

    • just deleted my comment because you said what i was trying to say but better.

      tho i’ll still add that i’m just not into this direction that queer culture is taking of “you’d better be in therapy/fix yourself before you are in any relationship” etc. and i feel like the anti-Harper responses are part of that which is disappointing to see. There needs to be room for people to be flawed and human.

  8. I really enjoyed this review! There is a small mistake though where it says Mary Holland’s character is named Mary; her character is actually named Jane, also just a small typo where it says “Alison Brie and Mary Holland play Harper’s sister” instead of “sisters”.

  9. idk like i think my fundamental take on this movie is that harper’s absolutely free to not be out, but it’s shitty to invite your partner to a family gathering knowing full well that you aren’t out and have no intention of being so. worse to not tell her before you’re almost there, awful to ignore her while you’re there, etc etc etc. harper isn’t terrible bc she isn’t out to her family, she’s terrible bc she trapped abby in a terrible situation and abandoned her

    if we’d seen even a single reason why we should like harper, it could have been a very different movie; maybe we could have seen why abby would overlook some stuff. as it is, it makes 0 sense that they stayed together, and i finished the movie extremely disappointed and frustrated.

  10. Ooooh, I loved it. I don’t care that the premise seems basic or outdated, because for loads of people this is still their reality. I cried a whole bunch but also laughed! It’s very witty and Dan Levy is such a scene stealer! Also, daaaaaamn Aubrey Plaza Bisexual!

  11. Heather, this review made me cry. And the movie almost did! I went in fully expecting the cheesy Christmas romcom, but not at all expecting to get emotional from a Dan Levy moment!

    I think you’re right that this movie isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. And I don’t mind the cliches or the coming out storyline when it’s a queer writer telling their personal story. Or when there’s a happy ending (although my partner was 100% team Riley).

  12. So I’m sure I’m gonna get dumped on for this, but all the criticism of Harper is awfully small-minded and kinda boring to me.

    First, pop culture can be a reflection of reality, it doesn’t have to always be perfectly aspirational. Let’s just have some mediocre tv with pretty people that pays lip service to queerness and let it be that.

    Second, yeah, Harper did a shitty thing. She really hurt her partner in the process. That’s human! Everyone does that! If you think you haven’t hurt your partner, you’re wrong, or you just haven’t done it yet! Harper came from a place of deep pain and fear and made a decision that was short-sighted and selfish, which is a completely unsurprising thing to do when you’re feeling like she was feeling. And it’s okay that Abby chose to forgive her. We are all complex people with complex feelings and understandings and needs and everything that happened in the movie can happen without it signaling that this is a toxic and abusive relationship forever. In fact, it ended with them communicating honestly with themselves and each other and repairing their relationship, which is a healthy choice. Like really, let’s make room for people to be people in queer culture.

  13. This is a beautiful review and I wish I had read it before watching the film so that I had appropriate expectations of the film. This film was a sad coming out story that was set at Christmas and I had watched it expecting to see a fun Christmas romcom with some amusing awkwardness based on the fact they were pretending to be straight. I just wanted a fun film.

    As a coming out angsty film it was very good. I have never seen a film capture what is like to be the partner of someone who spends the whole time trying to please their parents in the way Happiest Season did. I relate to Abby so much. Even though my ex-wife was out to her parents before she met me her relationship with them hinged on them all ignore the fact she was gay and therefore ignoring my existence and I often felt her keeping her parents happy was more important than how I felt (and it took about five to six years and us getting married for her parents to tolerate my existence).

    The Miseducation of Cameron post is a book and film I lived. I think coming out stories are important (as long as they are not the only stories), they’re just not what I want when I am expecting a cheerful Christmas romcom.

  14. i dont’ think i’m gonna watch this, and i also feel very iffy about The Prom. BUT I think its great that there are enough queer movies happening the last couple yrs that more of us we can find something we like (e.g. I loooove The Half of It and Sideways Smile sooo much). i think there are stories where, for one person the exact thing that feels like tending wounds will feel like salt on the wounds for others, if that makes any sense. actually, maybe I’ll watch The Prom in like 10 yrs when it feels even farther away.

    thanks for the photo album story heather! glad this movie led you to share that. i love your grandma stories so much.

  15. It feels like there are two different versions of this movie that people are watching and I’m so confused!
    Version 1, which lots of people loved and also some people couldn’t stomach because of personal taste/experiences: Holiday Kristen Stewart Rom-Com based on lots of very relatable queer plot points!
    Version 2: Kristen Stewart is giving a top-tier performance in a Christmas Drama where her girlfriend treats her poorly but she finds a kindred spirit with Aubrey Plaza, while Harper’s whole family is giving zany Holiday Comedy performances. It just felt like I was watching a fusion of two different holiday movie genres, and that made the conclusion very unsatisfying.
    (Or maybe this whiplash is very normal for rom-coms and I just don’t know the genre well enough??????)

  16. I feel like this could have been a much better movie if it wasn’t trying to be a rom-com. Like you know Abby and Harper are going to wind up together in the end, because rom-com. Everybody’s perfectly kind and happy and accepting and all the toxic dynamics just poof at the end, because rom-com. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you” is NOT the basis for a happy, healthy relationship, and “I tracked you! Because that is not stalkery at all!” is also not ok – but the reconciliation had to happen anyway, because rom-com.

    If they’d let go of the rom-com tropes, they could have made a movie that made time for a much more honest reckoning at the end. Maybe they have a more honest talk and still end up together, or maybe they keep Harper’s lines and Abby’s like “you know what, I love you but the last few days have shown me how unhealthy we are and I can’t do this” and she winds up with Riley. (Agree with others Abby/Riley had much more relaxed, sexy chemistry, though maybe that was just because Mackenzie was playing Harper as so stressed out – legit!)

    I do feel some sympathy for Harper. Thank goodness no girls fell in love with me while I was still in my “closeted Catholic trying desperately to be a good girl” phase because if I’d even had the guts to be in a relationship with them (unlikely) I very well might have done some of the same damaging things for the same fear-based reasons. I wanted Harper to tell Abby something like “I promise I’ll come out as soon as the holidays are over. But once I tell them, I lose them, so this is my last Christmas with them. That’s why I’m clinging to it so hard.” It would not have made it ok for her to have put Abby in that situation, but it might have helped Abby understand a little better.

    The actors’ performances were all good – Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza did indeed steal their scenes – I just wish the movie itself had been better. :>

    On another note, can I ask how any of you with autism felt about Jane? She read as autistic to me, and I kept waiting for some kind of acknowledgment of it. Had that been there, I would have really liked her character, particularly the self-advocacy she got at the end. Without that, the self-advocacy was still great, but it felt like all her comedic beats were the movie asking the audience to laugh at someone for being intense, a little awkward, not always picking up on social cues/boundaries, having deep knowledge on a restricted set of interests, fearing being left out … just, you know, maybe not things we should be making fun of people for, whether or not a specific label is used.

    tl;dr lot of good things about this movie, but some major caveats. (Just the existence of a lesbian rom-com though! And not as a little cult movie! And that I can feel safe criticizing it and not like I must protect it no matter its flaws! I want a time machine to reassure my younger self it does get better. I might not tell her about the rest of 2020 though…)

    • I’m autistic, and I liked Jane’s character, especially her self-advocacy at the end and how she publishes her book, and agree that she was definitely portrayed with a lot of autistic traits. I really hated how the directors/writers made her the punchline of basically every joke, though, I found it very insulting that her autistic traits were constantly made fun of. It’s not just the characters that treat her badly, it’s the fact that she’s made to be comic relief which is very shitty.

    • I’m autistic, and I agree about Jane. I think it was only the second scene she was in, that me, my autistic dad, and my mom-autistic mom and sister turned to each other and were like “Jane’s autistic, right?” The way everyone treated her felt all too real, and the fact that it was played for laughs made it a bit hard to watch. (That could just be me, though, I’m pretty sensitive, especially relating to autism.) Though if we’re being honest, most films with autistic characters that aren’t recognized as autistic handle it even worse than this. The way the parents treat her and have spoken of treating her is absolutely awful, and could be triggering for some viewers. All that aside, I do absolutely love Jane as a character and a person. I really wish they’d mentioned her being autistic in the movie. I didn’t cry at the romantic and emotional parts with Harper and Abby and about coming out, but I cried pretty much every time Jane came onscreen, starting with the scene with the painting. Her character really resonated with me as an autistic person, and if it wasn’t being played for laughs, this would be some amazing representation.

    • Thanks, Senta & JD! Yeah the painting was awesome, seeing her succeed as an author was great – Jane the character was wonderful. The way her family treated her, and the way the movie used her as the butt of jokes? Not so much. I guess a generous reading would be that they showed her overcoming adversity and highlighted her strength, but they could have made the adversity in-character only from her ignorant, dysfunctional family; inviting the audience to also laugh at her was what really annoyed me.

      On to better movies! Let’s have a sequel/redo focused on Abby dating Riley while Jane’s writing career takes off.

  17. I really appreciate all the work & reviews you’ve done about this movie Heather! I waited to read this review until after I’d seen the movie, but the other articles kept me informed and properly enthused!

    I’m really enjoying seeing Kristen Stewart getting to play gay, comedic roles. I liked her in Charlie’s Angels and I also liked her in this! I liked her hair style, her outfits, her cute little gestures & mannerisms. Also getting to see her happy and in love with Harper in the beginning was great!

    I kind of wish that we could have a normal rom-com that happens to have a gay couple at the center of the story, and it’s not based on the coming-out theme. I feel like we have enough sad coming-out movies…

    That said, this movie is probably great for straight audiences as well. There’s not much more than making-out, so it sticks to the PG13 label. Straight parents & ppl would be able to see what the coming-out process is like from a gay perspective, packaged up in a sweet holiday film.

    But I also would have liked to see Kristen Stewart making-out more/show more chemistry moments with Harper, I wanted Aubrey Plaza to have a girlfriend, and it also would have been cool if Jane turned out to be gay or bi too! Jane had some vibes, imho.

    This was a good movie- interesting plot, sweet holiday feels, good acting & script writing, and I did get a little emotional when Harper ran after Abby! I’ll probably watch this movie again in future years during the holidays too.

    And tomorrow night so I can catch more details haha.

  18. it’s been interesting reading all the reviews and comments. i definitely see why this seems like a different movie to different people, based on their experiences.

    for me, i definitely identify more with abby’s coming out experience so it was bewildering to me to watch her basically abandon abby as soon as they got home. at points i felt like i was watching a gay sequel to ‘get out’. and the family’s toxicity felt way too overplayed to suddenly turn on a dime at the end. when harper grabbed abby’s face (!) to beg her for a second chance, i cringed.

    but… on some level it’s nice to see this movie even if it didn’t sit right with me. how many tone-deaf rom-coms with cringe endings do straight people have, after all? maybe we’re at a point where every movie doesn’t have to be critiqued as if it was the singular point of representation.

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