Holiday romantic comedies in mainstream media have always been made for a heterosexual audience. Naturally, last year’s release of Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season, starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as a lesbian couple, generated both praise and backlash for its portrayal and placement of the LGBT in this genre.
LGBT representation in mainstream media has come a long way. Recently, more films both locally and internationally put LGBT characters at the center of the narrative, where they get happy experiences and endings. It’s appropriate then for LGBT audiences to seek that same kind of treatment during the holiday season, with a cliché but heartwarming romantic comedy. However, this led to a lot of criticism from audiences, who claim that Happiest Season played on a cliché or a trope instead of vying for genuine representation for the LGBT community, since the film focuses on the struggle of coming out instead of providing a lighthearted narrative for LGBT audiences to enjoy.
The film’s resolution also sparked a debate. Many argue that the main couple should not have reconciled, or that Abby (Kristen Stewart) should have ended up with Riley(Aubrey Plaza) due to their established chemistry and tension (notably both actresses identify as queer, which helped boost these in their interactions throughout the film). It must be acknowledged that Harper’s actions, which caused harm especially towards her partner, should not be excused. However, we must take into account that these particular circumstances and behaviors are present in the realities many LGBT individuals often face in coming to terms with their gender identity and sexuality in strongly conservative settings. The need to conform and adjust to these settings and set aside their own selves in order to gain acceptance sadly still occurs today. The resolution then provides an opportunity for LGBT audiences (as well as for Harper) to move away from this disposition with her partner and challenge her conservative family members to do so as well.
Though Happiest Season tackles the issue of coming out, it does so wrapped in a package filled with holiday cheer and warmth that a wide mainstream audience can enjoy, perhaps also helping them understand the issue of coming out better. The main cast, consisting mainly queer actors (Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, Aubrey Plaza), all gave nuanced performances, portraying their characters truthfully and without relying on stereotypes for the film’s punchlines. Mackenzie Davis’ portrayal of a closeted gay character should also be given praise, both in her depiction of the well-mannered, perfect daughter vying for acceptance from her family, and as Stewart’s romantic onscreen partner. While the film, of course, ends on a happy note, it still leaves a lasting impact, cementing its place as a holiday classic for queer audiences.
Progress surely has been made in furthering the recognition and normalization of LGBT representation in media. However, a lot of work still needs to be done, as not everyone is granted the same kind of privilege to experience this kind of progress. To have a film like this be catered to a mainstream audience provides hope that we will be seeing more diverse narratives that don’t leave out the realities of the LGBT community in the near future.