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The HAPPIEST SEASON to be queer

Clea DuVall's Happiest Season explores the complexities of being in a homosexual relationship at Christmas, a time of year centred on the heterosexual family structure. Lily Sheldon explains why its release marks a positive shift for the LGBT+ community and cinema at large.

With Christmas comes family and with family comes movies. It’s that time to cuddle up cosy on the sofa and watch yet another Reese Witherspoon or Emma Thompson Christmas movie and wonder how they are still churning out Santa-centric plotlines after so many years on the big screen. These movies are classic because they hit home right when we’re in our homes drawing on themes of family, fights, food and friends. But the most common, most cringe worthy and most nostalgic theme, is that of romantic love. 

But romantic love for who?

Love Actually, the most famous of Christmas films, presents us with ten different “complex” romantic love stories. You have your hopeless romantic in Colin Firth, you have your interracial relationship in Kiera Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor, you have your nostalgic young love story in Thomas Brodie-Sangster and we mustn’t be forget your inappropriate arsehole who we love anyway romantic in Hugh Grant. The movie, supposedly, presents us with ten different pairings from all walks of life. Accept, of course, from those walks of life happen to not be *gasps* heterosexual.

The invisibility of LGBTQ+ romance stories in Christmas movies is another theme which links them all together. Whether it’s Kate Winslet’s straight romance in The Holiday or Emilia Clarke’ in Last Christmas, a non-straight person would be lucky if they saw themselves portrayed as an extra trailing behind Reese Witherspoon when she’s running away from a various cheating boyfriend in one of the classics. We have been living in a cinematic reality where it has been deemed more palatable to watch an oversized, magical elf-man who grew up in the north pole come home for Christmas for the first time and fall in love with Zoe Deschanel, then it is to see a same sex couple as the protagonists in a romantic festive story.

That is until the release of Happiest Season this Christmas. Happiest Season takes place in Pittsburgh. The plot revolves around Harper Caldwell, played by Mackenzie Davis, bringing home her girlfriend Abby Holland, played by Kristen Stewart, for Christmas. Abby is considering proposing to Harper this holiday season. It sounds pretty typical so far: romance, food, family… until Abby learns that Harper has not yet come out to her family. And so Abby spends Christmas at Harper’s being shoved back into the closet, only this time it’s a closet situated in her girlfriend’s childhood bedroom.

The movie taps into the complexities of being in a homosexual relationship at a heterosexual holiday time of year. Christmas is about family, but when your family doesn’t know who you really are it’s about deceit and the choice between self-acceptance at the potential cost of familial love or continuously spinning lies that you’ve wanted for so many years to be true.

Unlike much of cinema, the Happiest Season does not settle for having an overtly, stereotypically gay couple as the side characters, but it rather depicts a lipstick lesbian (femme presenting) romance. Much like Santana and Brittany in Glee or George in the show ‘Feel Good’, Happiest season is expanding the representation of Lesbianism to mean something more than the ‘Butch’ archetype. Movies like Happiest Season and TV shows like Feel Good are additionally challenging the determinist idea that people are stuck with, and know for sure about their sexuality from a young age. Instead it introduces the concept of sexuality being a spectrum, with Harper in Happiest Season and George in Feel Good growing up liking boys and then getting serious with a girl. The movie therefore introduces a protagonist who is flexible in their sexuality, a direct challange to the older generation’s fixed conventions.

Christmas time serves as a daunting, periodic reminder for us to think about who we were “Last Christmas” and who we have become this Christmas against the static backdrop of a family Christmas dinner. We are therefore forced into reflection over what we’re doing with our lives and who we’re doing in our lives. There is a reason that so many movies and TV shows either premier, end or centre around Christmas. In Emma Thompson’s film Last Christmas this translates as Katarina reassessing her attitudes towards her job and life. In the coming of age movie Let It Snow a range of teenagers have to confront their romantic intrigues. Life queries at Christmas dominate cinema and have traditionally promoted the conventions of nostalgic hetero-sexual nuclear family dynamics. Happiest Season is working to change that convention. 

Cinema has always served as a type of socialisation, guidance to our subconscious as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and what is acceptable and unacceptable love. Therefore, Kristen Stewart has certainly outdone herself in re-guiding our subconscious away from the Team Edward or Team Jacob dichotomy and towards an organic twenty first century romance that many need to be exposed to. Thank the gay gods that she is no longer entertaining that scary vampire-werewolf Twilight romantic triangle but is in fact engaging in something which, in cinematic history, has been seen as far more scary and unnatural then kissing a werewolf: a lesbian relationship.

Perhaps, after watching Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis’ love story develop, that 16 year old girl questioning her sexuality in Liverpool will not ask Santa to be straight for Christmas for the tenth time in a row. But, instead, with Kristen Stewart’s side-parting in her subconscious, will rather ask Santa for something just a bit more scientifically sound, something just a bit more achievable, something that is love, actually.

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