Thursday, December 24, 2020

Now Streaming: Happiest Season

I have a segment called "Fresh from the Theatre", but seeing that more and more things are getting released online on streaming services, and I might actually view them at home myself, I will talk about those movies in this new segment "Now Streaming". These will also be listed in a separate group on the "Reviews" page. Just click Ctrl+F and type in the movies you might be looking for, or click through the archive on the right hand side!

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Well, this year was a shitshow. However, a lot of firsts occured as well, one of them was having the token gay couple finally becoming main characters in Christmas movies instead of having them be in the background to meet quotas as far as casting and screenwriting decisions are concerned. To me, this is the best time to be alive. Thinking of all the movie and TV shows that had protagonists that I looked up to... and to know that my kids will already have stories that show inclusion and tolerance and acceptance makes me very happy. To have this movie this Christmas season is a blessing. So let's just jump into it.

Happiest Season (2020)

Harper (Mackenzie Davis) takes her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) home for the holidays, however, turns out that she has not come out to her parents yet. With her dad, Ted (Victor Garber) running for office, and his wife Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) trying to convey the image of the perfect family, there is a lot on the line for Harper. In the end, Abby needs the help of her best friend John (Daniel Levy) to endure the holiday season.

Before we head into the movie review, let me just say: this movie HAS to exist. It does not matter if it is good or bad, as many people have to see it as possible because we need more. First, there is no perfect movie out there. Second, there is no perfect Christmas movie out there. Three, like how many shitty Christmas movies have you actually seen? Like really... I mean REALLY. You have no excuses here, so even if this isn't perfectly your cup of tea, we all know you want more Kristen Stewart in your life, so come on, give it a go! Fourth, show people that we do want more LGBTQ+ content and that love really is all around us, even in a 2020/pandemic/nightmare/quarantine situation at Christmas time. 

That having been said, I do have to say some small things about the story, that I do have to review as if it was any other movie. I watched this with my sister, and we agreed that the last 20 minutes of the movie made up for the anxiety filled stomachache that we felt through the first and the second act of it. However, important to note, I would not have felt that anxiety had it not been for the wonderful acting on the part of Stewart. Her body language was spot on, and actually, it was spot on for all the actors. I could tell when they were uncomfortable, they were anxious, they were happy, excited, scared... I could go on. But the strength of this movie was not in the actual dialogue but in the body language and that is very hard to convey through camera, and for that reason, hats off to all of the cast and the direction.
At this point I do have to admit that there is a bit of actual criticism that has to be said. I had some issues with the sisters, but I decided to chose between the two biggest issues, and I decided to leave the sisters alone. My criticism would come from how I think people in a family actually act, but I have really great siblings, so it would be quite biased. So let us instead focus on the main characters. The issue stems from Abby and Riley (Aubrey Plaza): they were perfect as far as characters go. Maybe too perfect. And there has to be a contrast, as this is mostly about how Harper came to terms with her sexuality and was able to be honest to herself as well as her family. But instead of it being a character reaching the goal, the same way Abby and Riley did, it ended up in antagonizing her whilst the other two were on a pedestal. I still think it was logical the way she behaved with her parents, because of who they were and the other pedestal on which they put their oldest and middle daughter. But she had friends (as superficial as they might have seen in their hometown), an actually nice ex-boyfriend that seemed understanding and caring; she had and ex-girlfriend that clearly would have reconnected with her, had she apologized; and also a young sister that struggled her whole life to have a relationship with her siblings. Harper had every chance possible to have a confidant and she never took it. She put herself in the difficult position and I know that it is hard to find someone to confide in, but it is even harder when you don't try. The movie started with a series of pictures of the great year that Harper and Abby had, but it forgot to show us any reason why Abby would actually love Harper so much. They just shared with us how off-putting her behavior is and how undeserving she is of Abby. And this is something that I watch out for in any book/movie/TV show: give me reasons to care. When I would rather have the main character hook up with someone else, that is an issue. We watch romantic comedies because we want the main characters to end up together, and here, I would have been fine with a break up as well, and because of that I was not sold on the love part of the movie. I will not blame pre-come out Harper, because we have all been there, and the fear of not being accepted weighs on you heavily. On the bright side, the fact that Abby did not forgive Harper right away, (after being outed by her sister, the worst this possible that could happen to someone, and yet it remained unaddressed), but Harper had to go the extra mile and run after her and convince her made up for a big portion of the issues with Harper's character, and with getting me back to care. 

What worked? John's character was a ten out of ten. First of all, he had the best lines. He was funny, witty, honest, sometimes crushingly honest, and he was the most loyal friend I have ever seen. Despite having moments when he might have seen distant, he always came through, and ended up helping more people in this family than just Abby. I also love that he was a gay men who was best friends with a lesbian: this whole stupid cliché of gays and lesbians not getting along has to stop. They had a wonderful relationship, and I wanted to highlight this because in movies best friends are very much the "support" cast, and they do not really have an arch of their own. The difference comes when the story is about the friendship. This movie was about romance, after all, and family, but there was still place for most characters to grow and John was one of them. I have seen very few stories of this kind. Really, since Abby was perfect in most ways, it was the rest of the cast that had to evolve, and it's hard to keep track of so many characters, but the movie did a great job. 

Watch it? Yes. The reason I could nitpick and criticize small things is because there was good material to work with. If you have read my blog, you know, that I either get super detailed when I want to improve something good, or when I want to take apart something horrible. This is definitely the former, as at the end of the day, I would love to re-watch this movie any Christmas, so that in my book makes for a good movie. Honestly, instead of a light hearted romantic comedy / Christmas movie, I would categorize it with the more serious ones, like Love Actually (2003). And I am putting that out there because if you do want to watch it and you are expecting laugh out loud moments, then know that that is not what the movie was going for. The holidays are a difficult season for a lot of people, and this movie reflects it quite well. 

Until the next item on my list, and until then:

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