Happiest Season review: Kristen Stewart nails the Christmas rom-com

The holiday romance has its shortcomings, but the whole package is a gift of Christmas cheer.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
2 min read

Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season.


Happiest Season, a unique and heartwarming Christmas rom-com, is out now on Hulu , armed with shiny tinsel and warm eggnog. Stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis embody loving couple Abby and Harper. But unlike sugary Christmas rom-coms before it, Happiest Season brings a little extra.

In the midst of festive cheer, this LGBTQI+ romance tells a poignant coming out story. Well-rounded, with an offbeat ensemble that sings around its central couple, this thoughtful Christmas movie should slide right onto your holiday viewing shelf.

Abby and Harper begin their festivities discussing exactly why Abby doesn't care for Christmas. Growing up parentless, Abby never had the "joy" of family get-togethers. In a drunken state, Harper invites Abby home for the holidays.

That's when things take a downward turn. It soon becomes clear Harper hasn't told her wealthy conservative parents she's gay. The news puts a slight spanner in Abby's plan to ask Harper's dad for her hand in marriage.

Chaos ensues. Harper isn't ready to come out yet, so Abby's forced to pretend she's Harper's orphan roommate, amusingly lying about an ex-boyfriend to Harper's Type A mother (Mary Steenburgen).


Kristen Stewart and Dan Levy.


We mostly spend time with Abby as she attempts to impress Harper's dad (Victor Garber) who's busy running for mayor. She also observes Harper's relationship with her two entertaining sisters: the uptight Sloane (Alison Brie), who has the perfect husband and children, and the just-happy-to-be-there fantasy novelist Jane (scene stealer Mary Holland).

Another wild card is thrown into the mix when Riley (Aubrey Plaza), Harper's ex-girlfriend, shows up in an awkward restaurant encounter. Man of the moment Dan Levy rounds out the rich cast as Abby's friend John, dutifully looking after her pet fish. ("If I wanted to buy the exact kind of fish for myself, where would I get them?")

Surrounded by this gallery of eccentric side characters, Stewart and Davis don't really get to lean into the fun antics, aside from a sequence where Abby attempts to tiptoe up to Harper's bedroom and ends up literally hiding in a closet. There's a sense Stewart and Davis are still getting to know each other in early scenes, but eventually their performances flourish.

Though Abby's perspective steers the ship, both her and Harper's viewpoints are handled with a balanced and nuanced touch. Co-writer and director Clea DuVall makes the major moments ring: A standout scene sees Harper burst out in her state of fear and anxiety: "I'm not hiding you, I'm hiding me!"

Proficient pacing in its final act makes Happiest Season play out neatly, the narrative hitting expected beats without much in the way of exciting surprises.

But that, of course, doesn't really matter. Happiest Season's coming out story resonates with all its characters, who hide their true selves from their family at Christmas. It's got the warmth and laughs to tuck you into a generous blanket -- simply enjoy.

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