It’s hard to watch Happiest Season without considering the glass ceilings it’s shattering: It’s the first lesbian romantic comedy and also the first same-sex holiday rom-com to be produced by any major movie studio.
Yet, at the same time, there’s a timeless feel to Clea Duvall’s heartfelt and deeply funny film, a Meet the Parents-style broad comedy. It’s why the film is already being hailed as an instant holiday favorite.
“All of those sort of markers of why it’s special, it’s the first, the first, the first, it also has to be great in order to hold those titles,” Mackenzie Davis tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent virtual press day for the film (watch video above).
Davis and Kristen Stewart play Harper and Abby, respectively, a happy Pittsburgh couple visiting Harper’s suburban family over the holidays. Their relationship hits a snag, however, when Harper tells Abby they must hide the fact that they’re a couple because of her conservative father’s political aspirations.
The film marks the first true romantic comedy for Stewart, the popular Twilight alum who identifies as queer and has stated she’s bisexual before but generally does not choose a label for her sexuality. “It felt so good to do it with this skin on it,” the actress says.
“There are a lot of funny things that happen between guys and girls when they go home for Christmas, but different things happen with two girls. Those jokes are just new to us. We haven’t told them yet. So it was really fun to scratch the surface of something that feels really familiar but at the same time completely new.”
Happiest Season was written by actor-turned-director Duvall (The Intervention) and her Veep co-star Mary Holland, who also costars as Harper’s scene-stealing oddball sister Jane. Duvall and Holland acknowledged the film is simultaneously conventional and radical.
“We haven’t really seen this movie before, and yet we have,” says Duvall. “We have seen big, bright, warm holiday movies, but they’re always told from a very specific perspective. That this one follows all the rules of the genre and really honors the genre because it centers around an LGBT couple, it is something that has never been done.”
Watch the trailer:
The experience of making Happiest Season reminded Mary Steenburgen, who plays Harper’s mother Tipper, of the effects of her 1993 drama Philadelphia — one of Hollywood’s first major releases to center around a gay character as well as acknowledge the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“Over the years I had a number of people come up to me and the ones that really meant a lot to me were people who said, ‘I come from a very conservative family, we didn’t know how to deal with [gay relatives],’” Steenburgen says. “In one case I remember a flight attendant saying [her brother was gay and had AIDS] and she said, ‘Because of that movie, our whole family was with him when he passed. They needed that modeling of a family that surrounded somebody with love.’
“And I feel like with this, a lot of young people come out to the families around the holidays. And if this makes a difference and helps at all to remember to share the love over the holidays, then it’s really worth it.”
Happiest Season is currently streaming on Hulu.
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo
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