Thursday, June 13, 2024

Happiest Season is the first truly queer Christmas movie

This season a new romantic comedy starring Kristen Stewart and written and directed by Clea DuVall shows that for LGBTQ folks, Christmas is a chance to show who we really are.

When Abby (Kristen Stewart) learns that Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is not out to her family, she begins to question the girlfriend she thought she knew. Meeting Harper’s uptight and ambitious family for the first time was always going to be a challenge but finding out that they think she is just their daughter’s roommate throws a wrench in Abby’s plan to propose at their annual Christmas dinner.

Kristen Stewart reacts to the enormity of her proposal in Happiest Season

Happiest Season is a holiday romantic comedy that hilariously captures the family tensions surrounding Christmas while still trying to be true to yourself. As refreshing and sweet as candy cane, and as heartwarming as a mug of hot chocolate or a glass of spiced wine, this movie really is a treat. Directed by Clea DuVall with a screenplay by Clea DuVall and Mary Holland, the film stars Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Levy, and Mary Holland. I visited the set, on location in Pittsburg, and caught up with Kristen Stewart and the cast to find out all about it.

Writer-director Clea Duvall (left) with Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis
Clea, what was your inspiration for the script?

Clea DuVall: I love Christmas movies and I love how they become a part of our lives. They become a tradition in a way but I’ve never really seen myself represented in one before. I’d had this idea for a really long time and I wrote this outline that sat on my computer for years and I wanted to work on it but with comedy it’s always so much more fun to work with another person. As a filmmaker it’s very important to me to tell universal stories, connecting with as many people as I possibly can, and a lot of different kinds of representation.

The plot of this movie is very relatable for many gays and lesbians.

Clea DuVall: I’ve been in the situation where you’re pretending to be someone’s roommate and it’s hard and you do it and it’s so weirdly normal. Anyone who’s been in a same-sex relationship, especially when you’re younger or struggling with coming out, and for me being an actor [when I was] closeted, bringing people who were like my ‘friends’, and having to live in the ambiguity of what that relationship was, it felt very relatable. I wanted to tell a story for people who had been in that situation and for the families of people who had been in that situation. There’s no judgment in this film.

Mary Holland, how did you become involved?

Mary Holland: Clea and I met working on Veep together, we hit it off right away had a chemistry together. I remember she texted me and said, Do you ever write, and I was like, Never alone, only with people. And she was like, I have this idea, can I tell you about it, so we went out to coffee and she described this idea and sent me a rough summary of what the movie would be about and we started meeting and got into writing it.

Happiest Season has taken a familiar genre and included a queer romance
What was it like being part of a groundbreaking genre: the queer romcom?

Mary Holland: As a straight cisgender woman myself I’m really cognizant that this is a story that is overdue being told and I really feel so honored that Clea asked me to be a part of this process. It’s so important to me that all these people are represented. As we were doing it, working on the script eight hours a day, I remember thinking, This is really very special. Everyone deserves a holiday movie; something that represents them and their experience and what their love is. It’s so universal.

Alison Brie plays Sloane, the competitively aggressive sister of Harper (Mackenzie Davis)
Alison, which character do you play?

Alison Brie: I play Sloane and she and her sister Harper, played by Mackenzie, have a very competitive relationship. Sloane is desperately seeking approval from both of her parents. That’s what leads to most of the competition between Sloane and Harper. It was fun knowing that Kristen and Mackenzie were already attached when I read the script so I could picture them in the roles and I was so excited that Clea was directing it.

Alison, you’ve been involved in several female-driven projects, for example Glow. You know that they are successful. Thoughts on why we’re still discussing the economic viability of female-helmed projects?

Alison: Absolutely. To me it’s about changing the way we talk about female-driven projects. They’re just projects. We don’t call them male-driven movies. This is just a hilarious comedy. Sloane is just a really great role, there’s a lot of fun stuff for this character to do and it’s the type of character that’s a little villainous. It’s also a leap in the right direction to showcase a same-sex relationship in a mainstream holiday movie. On first read I was like, Great, what a beautiful love story. And then I took a step back and l looked at the cultural implications and how important a film like this is, and I felt extreme pride.

Veteran actor Mary Steenburgen plays the mother of a gay daughter who is in denial
Mary, Tipper is an American archetype, the uptight mom under pressure to make the perfect Christmas.

Mary Steenburgen: I enjoy her hideousness. I think she’s petrified half the time and feels completely inadequate and compensates by screaming at everybody. I loved the idea that we’ve gotten this far with holiday movies and we’ve never had a gay couple at the center of a holiday movie and it felt very exciting to be a part of it — even the part I’m playing: somebody who needs to grow a little bit and maybe does. I played a bad guy in Philadelphia, which at the time was very weird for me because at the time my roommate and dear friend died of AIDS a couple of days before I went there, so that whole experience was huge. It was very moving to see what a difference a movie makes, not just preaching to the choir, but people who call themselves conservatives who saw that film and felt they saw their son better because Tom Hanks’ character had this family who loved him. It was very moving. This is different, this is a comedy, but often comedies are the things that make change. This is a family who at the end of the day truly does love each other.

Daniel Levy (John) and Kristen Stewart (Abby)
The queer romcom starring women is new to the world. Kristen, what do you think of this film just celebrating queerness to the mainstream?

Kristen Stewart: I think it’s dope. It’s fucking sick.

It’s wonderful to be part of positive, non-tragic depictions of queer love, that don’t have to be an incredible struggle to get through and then tragedy.

Mackenzie Davis

Mackenzie Davis: I was so excited. When we first started this movie I was like, I would be so jealous if somebody else was doing it and we weren’t the ones who got to do it. Or if somebody else was doing it with Kristen and Clea. It’s not just the socio-political import; it’s that the people making it are really wonderful, there’s so much laughter and joy, I’ve never had this much fun making a movie before.

Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart felt liberated by working on such a queer movie set

Kristen Stewart: It’s so nice to catch that sense of freedom and fun. It’s super contagious — the way to spread love is definitely through giving it. There is an inherent indignance that is healthy and amazing to express but it’s also great to gently lead someone sweetly to something nice. It’s nice to come to work and feel like I can say anything… I’m not implying like I’ve had inhibited experiences because of the lack of queerness in other movies that I’ve done but in this we all feel so visible to each other and so understood and therefore allowed. It feels fucking great.

The Happiest Season is out on Hulu on November 25.

Watch the trailer here.

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 140 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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