It’s no secret that I’m a proud queer woman and connoissuer of LGBT+ movies, books, music, and television. I like to absorb media that I feel normalizes and validates the queer experience, which is why I was so excited to watch Happiest Season last December. A normal Christmas movie about normal lesbians?
Count me in!
I’m not going to be breaking down the plot scene-by-scene like I have with past film reviews, so I’m going to assume those reading forthward have already seen the entire film. If you’re looking for a comprehensive, detailed plot description, this is not the article for you. If you’re here to basically just tear apart the ending, you’ve come to the right place.
I started out the movie feeling pretty strong about Harper and Abby. The chemistry of Mackenzie Davis and Kirsten Steward was believable for me, and I’d say the first ten or so minutes of the film were a perfect representation of the lesbian relationship I strive for: silly, affectionate, and open with each other.
Spoiler alert: things do not stay this way. (Mostly at the fault of Harper.)
We learn that Kirsten Stewart’s character, Abby, has always had a complicated relationship with Christmas after losing her parents around the age of 20 and grieving the happy memories they shared around the holidays. Impulsively, her girlfriend, Harper, invites Abby to spend the holidays with her and her family, reassuring Abby that it will be a wonderful experience of warm family-bonding and holiday cheer. Abby happily daydreams about proposing to Harper on Christmas Morning. All seems well in waffleville.
However, things don’t stay as warm and fuzzy as they seem. While on the car ride to the family home, Harper reveals to Abby that she lied about coming out to her parents, and subsequently begs Abby to go along with the facade that Abby is actually her straight roommate. She promises Abby that she will come out to her parents after the holidays- she just wants to make sure her father doesn’t have any distractions right now as he prepares to run for mayor.
So, okay. Let’s unpack all of that.
I’m the first to admit that coming out is no easy feat. Not only do you have to deal with your own personal internal struggles, you now have to deal with everybody else’s perception of you. I never really had a formal “coming out” myself; I sort of just began casually mentioning to my friends and family that I’d like to have a girlfriend someday. It wasn’t really a big deal to anyone else, which helped me to feel normalized and relaxed about the whole ordeal. But it’s not that way for everyone.
Coming out and not knowing the reaction of those around you can be incredibly scary, so I don’t blame Harper for putting off such a monumental moment of her life. However, it is completely her responsibility and her own fault for lying to Abby and putting her in such an unfair position! I mean, come on. They were already halfway there! Abby didn’t even have a choice to back out or disagree, even if she wanted to. If Harper couldn’t accept the reality that she wasn’t ready to come out to her parents, she should have been upfront and transparent with Abby about this way beforehand.
Unsurprisingly (but reluctantly,) Abby agrees to go along with it. Again, it’s not like she had much choice in the decision making.
Once at the Caldwell home, Abby is introduced to the rest of Harper’s perfectionist family: her kind (but clearly very traditional) parents, Ted and Tipper, her eccentric and energized sister, Jane, and her older, less-friendly sister, Sloane. It is constantly suggested throughout the film that Sloane and Harper have a highly competitive sister relationship, with both sisters pining for their parent’s approval. Jane, on the other hand, is sort of just chilling on the sidelines, being her own wacky self and working on her lifelong pursuit of becoming a novelist.
Abby begins to doubt how much she really knows Harper and feels (understandably) uncomfortable being branded as Harper’s “orphan friend who had nowhere else to go for the holidays.” To make matters worse, Abby and the Caldwells have an unfortunate pattern of constantly running into Harper’s old exes- including Connor, Harper’s high school boyfriend. Abby also runs into Harper’s ex-girlfriend, Riley, played by the ever-lovable Aubrey Plaza.
Things take a turn for the worse when Sloane’s bratty little children sneak jewelry into Abby’s purse during a mall outing and make Abby look like a shoplifter, in front of one of Ted’s potential campaign donors. After this incredibly frustrating event (which was so angering to me, I think I yelled at my television,) the Caldwells agree that Abby should probably hang back from future social events with the family to protect their wholesome image. Harper feels remorseful and apologizes to Abby for how absurdly bad things are going, but besides that, she isn’t really doing a whole lot to make Abby feel included and loved during this ordeal. All of these misfortunes cause Abby to feel detached from Harper, and while Harper blissfully goes on attending parties and social events with her family and the suddenly-present-again Connor, Abby turns to Riley as a friend.
While out at a gay bar with Riley, Abby learns that Riley was actually outed by Harper in high school when a classmate accused them of being lesbians. After that event, Harper denied her sexuality to protect her own image while leaving Riley out to face bullies and struggle through her own premature coming out experience. Abby begins to feel worried about the relationship, and wonders if she even wants to propose to Harper on Christmas morning after all.
Although it may seem shady to viewers that Abby suddenly buddied-up with Harper’s ex-girlfriend, I actually don’t blame her at all. For one, it’s not like Abby and Riley were cheating with each other or falling in love- Riley was just a friend for Abby to rely on and learn more about Harper from. It’s not like Harper cared about Abby too much during this vacation anyway; she was too busy getting drunk with her hometown friends and hanging out with *shudder* Connor. Understandably, Abby wasn’t exactly pleased with Harper and didn’t feel included in any capacity. I’m actually shocked and impressed with Abby’s self control by this point. If I was in this position myself, I would have been LONG gone in my uber.
So, okay. Harper is too tied up in her own selfish nonsense to notice that Abby’s no longer enjoying being a pawn in her story, but things were still fairly anticlimactic. Up until the Caldwell Christmas Eve party, that is, where father Ted is relying on his clean-cut image and the support of potential donors to score that mayor nomination. Throughout the entire film, Abby has been chatting back-and-forth with her old friend from home, John, played by the absolutely fabulous Dan Levy. After realizing that Abby is Straight Up Not Having a Good Time, John FINALLY comes to pick Abby up unannounced from the Caldwell’s, much to Harper’s dismay. Harper shares a few private words with Abby about how she doesn’t want Abby to leave and she’s sorry for everything that happened, but just as she is about to kiss Abby, take a guess who walks in. Go on, take a gander!
It’s that bitch Sloane!
Honestly, if Sloane had reacted to the realization that Harper was gay with any ounce of kindness or respect, I wouldn’t be calling her names like that. But the fact that Sloane instantly got a smug look on her face and ran off to gleefully out Harper to their parents really steamed my potatoes. It steamed my potatoes more than Sloane’s little brats framing Abby for shoplifting. It steamed my potatoes more than Connor’s very existence.
So you can imagine my satisfaction when someone (I don’t remember who) opens a closet door and exposes Sloane’s husband making out with another woman. So now Sloane’s secret is out of the bag- she and her husband are getting a divorce.
All of this stress and exposé and built-up anger causes Harper and Sloane to get into a very physical altercation in the middle of the party, much to Ted and Tipper’s dismay. Vases are smashed. Hair is ruffled. Jane’s delightful artwork is tragically destroyed in a moment of comic relief. In front of all the guests and the family, Sloane outs Harper and reveals that she is a lesbian, which Harper than rebutes by frantically denying.
If my potatoes were steamed before, they are now on fire. I know it’s just a movie and these aren’t real people/real situations, but I couldn’t believe that Harper STILL thought it was a good idea to deny this. After trashing the house and having a very public fight with her sister, appalling guests and family alike, Harper still thought she could be selfish and dig herself into an even deeper hole. Not only was she not saving herself at all by this point, but she was also hurting Abby and betraying her by denying their relationship. Wordlessly, Abby grabs her things and leaves with Dan, silently concluding that the relationship was now over.
I feel the need to reiterate that I understand coming out can be extremely traumatizing and difficult. Big or small, every single relationship in your life can change by admitting something so personal and important. However, if Harper wasn’t so wrapped up in herself and her own personal image and selfishness, none of this would have happened. If Harper had just been honest with Abby in the first place and said “No, I’m not out to my parents” and “No, I’m not ready to tell them,” even that would be better than the current position she has herself in. She can feel whatever she wants to feel- regret, pain, sadness, etc., but whatever she does, she can’t blame Abby or deflect this incredibly awful situation onto her. After all, Abby never had a choice in the matter- Harper took that away from her.
Dan Levy and Abby leave the home together, where, once outside, they discuss Abby’s decision and how the general experience of coming out can be so vastly different from person to person. He reminds Abby that although her parents may have been extremely supportive and normalized her experience, that’s certainly not the experience that everybody has- including himself, as he was kicked out of his home after coming out to his father. He tells Abby that although the situation is extremely upsetting and her feelings are valid, Harper’s fear of coming out ultimately has nothing to do with her love for Abby.
Okay, pause. I understand completely what Dan Levy’s character is trying to tie together here, and I do think he does a beautiful job showing Abby what Harper’s situation looks like from her own personal angle. However, I still think it’s important to remember that love isn’t just about what your person does for you- it’s also what you do in return for your person. Abby was doing everything for her person- she showed (reluctant) but unwavering support for Harper when Harper asked her to go along with the orphan-tagging-along-for-Christmas thing. She was consistently forgiving to Harper up until this point- which may have actually been her downfall. Harper, on the other hand, was so wrapped up in her own personal self-image and her father’s self-image, she completely disregarded Abby’s personal happiness and freedom in the relationship. If Harper truly felt like she wasn’t ready to come out to her parents, she should have been honest and upfront with Abby from the beginning.
And hey, maybe I’m biased in this, too. I had a relatively easy coming out experience because I didn’t really have to “come out.” It was just silently accepted by most of my family as the new normal and not something to be brought into question. I’m the girl who had a very cool supportive mother, who wanted me to bring girls back to the apartment because she was so excited for me to have a girlfriend, whereas to the girls I was crushing on, I was just the “friend from college” because she hadn’t come out to her parents yet. I very much resonate with Abby’s position more, and I think that does add a lot of bias.
Here’s my thing. There are 7.5 billion people in the world. No matter how much you think someone is perfect for you and your missing puzzle piece, you will ALWAYS be able to find someone else who makes you just as happy, if not happier. It’s just a matter of if you’re willing to give the person who fucked you over the first time a second chance.
However, with all of that being said, Harper does seemingly redeem herself at the end of the movie. *Finally* realizing all of the damage she has caused, she decides to come out to her family and reveal that she is indeed a lesbian. Sloane follows in suit by revealing she and her husband are getting a divorce. And Jane, bless her little heart, finally works up the courage to reveal she feels extremely left out and neglected by the family. Although shocked by all of these revelations, Tipper and Ted do feel remorseful and apologize to their daughters for the way their upbringing has affected their self esteem so profoundly.
That night, Harper chases after Abby and reveals that she does truly love her and she’s ready to live her authentic self and build a life together. After reflecting on both Dan Levy and Harper’s words of encouragement and love, Abby embraces Harper and they get back together. A year later, they are happily engaged, and it’s revealed that Ted gave up the support of one of his largest campaign donors after the donor asked him to keep Harper’s sexual orientation a secret. Truly, a redeeming ending for everyone. Maybe?
Look, I’m still not thrilled that Abby didn’t break up with Harper after all the garbage she put her through to be with Aubrey Plaza’s character. And that’s seemingly not an unpopular opinion; I’ve seen so many other friends and viewers admit they wished for the same thing. But at the end of the day 1), it’s just a movie, and 2) I think the film does highlight beautifully that love can overcome all. Say what you want about Abby giving Harper a second chance, but I do commend Harper for finally trying to make things right after the shitstorm she initiated. I definitely would have stuck with Abby and supported her decision to end the relationship with Harper, but hey, if they’re both happy, then that’s great. I just hope Abby told Harper she’s not going to put up with that manipulative garbage anymore after that second chance.
Overall, I would give this movie a solid 4 out of 5 stars. It was generally enjoyable and entertaining, and the comedic elements definitely carried the plot along, specifically Dan Levy’s charismatic character. I’ve watched it twice now and genuinely enjoyed both experiences, even though I did want to yell at my television during several points. My dad even enjoyed the film, which was heartwarming to me, as my father has not always said or done the right things to make me feel loved and accepted during my own queer journey. By the way, he’s team Harper.
I’d love to know you guys’ thoughts in the comments below. Do you agree that Abby would have been justified in leaving Harper? Or do you think Harper deserved a second chance? I understand this is a very polarizing issue for everybody in the LGBT+ community but I am very interested to hear everyone’s perspective, and who knows, you just might change my own point of view on the film!