Lana Lynch’s review published on Letterboxd:
I knew I would likely enjoy and maybe relate to this film, but it struck a huge chord for me. The rest of this will get very personal:
My first thought when hearing that the plot was concerning the couple having to hide their queer sexuality, it was a bit of a disappointment tbh. To compare it with, say, Schitt's Creek which has lgbt characters almost universally out and only a small handful of episodes dealing with coming out and hiding true natures. Schitt's Creek, which also stars Dan Levy and probably the reason it pops up as a comparison, felt like a giant breath of fresh air wherein lgbt characters could have fully developed plot totally unrelated to their sexuality. So Happiest Season initially felt like a step backwards and an unnecessary one at that.
But the longer the film went on, the more I started seeing something that caught me off-guard. From the moment we see Abby and Harper at Harper's family home, you can feel a change in Harper. She's hiding her true feelings yes, but she's also putting on a persona, a persona that she hasn't worn since she lived with her family but one that she knows intimately and can slip into when she needs to. Abby in contrast is put in many situations where she has to lie, but she doesn't seem to become someone else, she just evades and also does it all out of love for someone else. Kristen Stewart and MacKenzie Davis are both great actors, but MacKenzie is dealt a difficult role that requires her to ignore or deny her girlfriend's love for most of the film. So I was getting frustrated with Harper a lot until I realized I was her at one point in my life.
Abby and Harper reflect two sides of the lgbt experience for me, one before and one after so to speak. Harper is the still in the early lgbt stage of putting others' feelings before their own and pushing down parts of themselves that don't "fit" so as to be like they're supposed to in others' eyes. I grew up with a side of my family that was very much like those in the film. They were popular in the small community. They were respected around town. They had a set way of doing things. Everything about the lifestyle expected for you was set in front of you, before you even realized what a lifestyle was. It's such an overbearing constant presence that you don't even need to be told what doesn't fit and what doesn't belong, you just know it in your bones. This creates such a painful need for making sure you do what you need to in order to belong there. That desire for acceptance and love by the family's specific standards replaces the idea that love is unconditional. So then everything else becomes expendable in sight of that goal. My frustration with Harper became a stinging memory of how I used to act that exact same way.
Abby is the other side, the "It Gets Better" side. Once you're out, fully, unquestionably, and unabashedly, you never want to go back to how you were. You can't really even if you tried, Abby's lesbian fashion sense coming thru loudly while posing as straight is proof of that. You have incorporated your sexuality into yourself, and it will be present to everyone you meet. There's no fear about telling others, because it's a part of you and you can't change it. It's freeing for numerous reasons but mainly, in contrast to Harper, it allows you to not worry about others' feelings in regards to your personal life. As much as we wish we could control family and friend' feelings about us, you can control it as well as the weather. All you can do is be true to yourself and let them come to their own conclusions.
So while watching the film, I was seeing my younger closeted self and my current out self having to deal with each other (and dating each other too which is a weird aspect we can ignore for now😋). My annoyance with Harper became a more compassionate understanding of her awful situation. Abby's hurt at being asked to cut so much of herself still stung just as deep though. But I loved how I was able to see these personal reflections of my life in such a sweet film.
Because this is a romcom, at the end all the secrets come out and a heartfelt reconciliation brings the family together. It's very sweet and I'm happy that they offer a happy ending. I didn't get that happy ending for myself. In real-life the damage and toxicity of all the years spent repressing and living with those who would never be family to me made it clear that a clean split was not only necessary but vital. Even so, I'm still living on that other side now and I can say with complete sincerity "It Did Get Better". 💙