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Review: 'Happiest Season' lacks holiday, rom-com magic

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis star in seasonal comedy that misses mark

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The song tells us it's the "hap-, happiest season of all," but that's rarely the case, especially in movies that use the holidays as a backdrop for a big family clash. A squabble always looks a little better with a decorated wreath in the background. 

"Happiest Season" is a romantic comedy with the best of intentions and a scattered execution. It gets by on its charms and a pair of heartwarming performances, although its script feels like a present that was opened up before it was finished being wrapped.

Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart in "Happiest Season."

Kristen Stewart stars as Abby, who is going home with her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) to spend the holidays with her family. Abby is getting ready to propose to her, and even has a ring ready to go. But there's one catch: Harper hasn't yet come out to her family, which she's never told Abby, and she wants Abby to pretend to her family that they're just roomies. 

So they're set up in different rooms — Harper is upstairs, Abby's in the basement — and they spend the week tiptoeing around the truth of their relationship. Turns out Abby's dad (Victor Garber) is running for mayor, and the revelation that his grown adult daughter is gay would throw a huge wrench into his chances of being elected, despite this movie taking place in the present and not the 1950s.

The situation and the tension is largely forced — as Harper's devilishly nasty sister, Alison Brie's character is particularly underwritten — but Stewart brings a center to the proceedings, as does "Schitt's Creek's" Dan Levy, who steals scenes and gets the best laughs as Abby's best friend. 

But as much as writer-director Clea DuVall's heart is in the right place, "Happiest Season" relies on set-ups and revelations that don't feel real (spare us the knock-down, drag-out wrestling match at the climactic Christmas party, please), making this holiday present a mixed bag. Ho, ho, hum. 

'Happiest Season'


Rated PG-13: for some language

Running time: 102 minutes

On Hulu