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The ‘Happiest Season’ Exit Survey

Talking bad parents, great middle children, and whether or not Abby (Kristen Stewart) should’ve dumped Harper (Mackenzie Davis)

Getty Images/Hulu/Ringer illustration

Just in time for the holidays, Happiest Season dropped on Hulu last Wednesday. A tale of a girl (Kristen Stewart) who gets dragged to her still-in-the-closet girlfriend’s (Mackenzie Davis) hometown, it’s a movie full of romantic tension, bad parenting, and suffocatingly heterosexual bars called Fratty’s. And it’s also a movie that must be discussed ...

1. What is your tweet-length review of Happiest Season?

Kate Halliwell: All I wanted for Christmas was to see Bella Swan make out with the Terminator. Thank you, Clea DuVall.

Katie Baker: Less depressing than The Family Stone!

Jomi Adeniran: It’s your standard holiday rom-com: heart-warming, enjoyable, and emotional. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.

Alison Herman:

Andrew Gruttadaro: The best holiday rom-com since Vanessa Hudgens spontaneously multiplied.

Charles Holmes:

2. What was the best moment of the film?

Gruttadaro: Moments, plural: the ongoing bit about Jane being the family’s in-house Geek Squad employee. That was a direct shot and I took it personally.

Baker: Abby and Riley bantering in that booth; Abby mumbling, “He’s a milk … man”; and Jonah Ryan, Mall Cop.

Adeniran: The mall cop interrogation scene featuring Timothy Simons and Lauren Lapkus felt like it was from an entirely different movie … and I loved every second of it.

Halliwell: Every time Mackenzie Davis had to do an artful lean to bring her face into the same stratosphere as Kristen Stewart’s.

Herman: Whenever Dan Levy gave tough, empathetic, tender emotional guidance while accidentally murdering a literal fish. Representation matters!

Holmes: The only plot that matters in Happiest Season is Jane publishing her book, The Shadowdreamers, in spite of her Republican parents and emotionally manipulative sisters. The world needed a less problematic J.K. Rowling, and Jane Caldwell is a worthy successor. Men lie, homophobic families lie, a New York Times bestseller doesn’t.

3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?

Holmes: A significant part of the plot for Happiest Season hinges on the notion that Kristin Stewart and Mackenzie Davis aren’t allowed to hang out in the same bedroom for more than five minutes. So, inevitably, hijinks ensue one night when Stewart’s horniness becomes too much to bear and she tries to sneak up to her girlfriend’s bed. Predictably, things take a turn for the sitcom worst when Stewart must hide from the Caldwell family’s matriarch.

She jumps into a literal closet to match the metaphorical closet her girlfriend and family have her hiding in throughout the movie. A roomba eventually blows her cover and the following dialogue unfolds.

“Abby, what are you doing in the closet,” Tipper Caldwell says.

“Well, I guess I must’ve been sleepwalking,” Kristen Stewart says, in disbelief at the punch line she’s meant to sell.

Gruttadaro: That Victor Garber was generally a pretty bad dude with zero redeeming qualities. That’s not the Garber I know. But that character’s flaws speak to the easiest criticism to make against Happiest Season: It’s a wildly straightforward story with not a ton of nuance.

Herman: I can’t tell if this is the fault of Clea DuVall or Mackenzie Davis or just the world we’re living in, but I was incapable of taking off my Real-Life Lenses when it came to the various plot contrivances that also made the central relationship look completely toxic. I get that the movie has to get Kristen Stewart to her in-laws’ place so shenanigans can ensue, but inviting someone home for Christmas knowing they’ll have to lie about their identity the whole time is a damning first strike. Not telling them about the lie until you’re already en route and pressuring your partner despite their obvious reluctance is even worse. And when Harper uses “you agreed to this” as an excuse in an argument while clearly exploiting Abby’s desire for family and stability borne from her trauma?!?! JAIL FOR LIFE. I haven’t rooted for a breakup this hard since the divorce in Marriage Story, and that is very much not the vibe this movie is going for.

Halliwell: I found the wacky physical comedy to be a bit jarring at times. Why did Kristen fall off a building in the first three minutes? Is she okay?

Adeniran: When Abby takes Harper back immediately after everything that just happened. I understand it’s a rom-com and things need to happen quickly, but what went down on Christmas Eve was A LOT. They needed to have at least one extended conversation before getting back together.

Baker: Harper’s bangs!!! Also, this:

4. Finish the sentence: Kristen Stewart was …

Holmes: … smart to secure that Hulu bag.

Gruttadaro: … absolutely crushing it in suit coats.

Adeniran: … excellent. She’s a great actress and even though her choices haven’t been great, her talent is undeniable. If Emelia Clarke isn’t going to take her rightful place on the rom-com female lead throne, I’m more than fine with Kristen Stewart doing so.

Herman: … really great in Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, the kind of weird French art movies I hope she’ll continue to make now that she’s gotten “corny holiday rom-com” out of her movie-star system.

Baker: … amazing in her recent interview with Variety’s Kate Aurthur. I highly recommend it for her humor and candor but especially for her concluding remarks—“Think about what you’re doing and don’t be an asshole”—which she’s using in a specific context but are pretty applicable to, just, life.

Halliwell: … probably extremely expensive to cast, right? Let’s just appreciate what we have here.

5. Rank the sisters.


1. Jane

[a gigantic mountain of gum drops and mistletoe and snow]

2. Harper

3. Sloane


1. Jane

2. Sloane

[gaping chasm]

[keep going]

[almost there!]

3. Harper

Halliwell: Jane is clearly the best sister: caring, imaginative, and with a shiny new book deal. Harper slides in at number two. Why was Alison Brie even there?

Baker: First of all, if you do the math there’s a case that could be made that this movie takes place in the same cinematic universe as the legendary 1989 film Parenthood, although the implications of Mary Steenburgen having totally reinvented herself as a bob-headed woman named “Tipper” aren’t great for Gil (or poor Kevin) Buckman. Anyway:

  • I didn’t think I cared much about Jane until I found myself crying at her character’s resolution, the only tears I shed throughout the film! Jane really crushed it in crunch time, from her righteous speech at the party to her wholesome allyship shortly thereafter.
  • Harper, just, ehhh—while I could empathize with her reticence to be honest with her family, that didn’t make it any less irritating.
  • And then there’s Sloane, who was so (by design!) cold and mean that I had to keep reminding myself not to directly despise Alison Brie as a consequence of her solid acting.

Adeniran: I have to stand in solidarity with my middle child brethren, so Jane reigns supreme. As for who comes in second, that’s a tougher one: Harper is awful to Abby while Sloane is awful to Abby and nearly everyone else except her kids and Jim from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend … I’d have to say Harper edges out Sloane, but just by a millimeter.


1. Jane: No other character built a nuanced and detailed fantasy world, while devoting 100 hours to a beautiful Christmas painting.

2. Sloane: Who wouldn’t risk it all for Alison Brie, even when she’s playing the Karen of all Karens?

3. Harper: I will never forgive this monster for destroying Jane’s 100-hour painting.

6. Who is Happiest Season’s most valuable player?

Halliwell: Mary Steenburgen is the most valuable player in every single movie ever made.

Baker: Overall, it’s Abby; Kristen Stewart’s magnetism is what kept me engaged throughout the whole film. (And afterwards, too: This Twitter search is a salve.) But in terms of points per minute, it was Riley who delivered some of the best moments of the movie and added some depth to the plot.

Gruttadaro: Um, the town? Not only was it the most adorable, quintessentially Christmas-y place I’ve ever seen, but it also had that level of white suffocation you need for a movie about intolerance.

Holmes: Mary Holland’s portrayal of Jane Caldwell is the only part of this film that’s funny in the way that it was originally intended. She’s the sister with the least screen time and still puts up a triple-double. Holland makes every Jane joke land and earns every emotional beat. Hulu needs to green-light the Jane spinoff ASAP.

Adeniran: Aubrey Plaza is undoubtedly the MVP of this movie. In limited screen time, she is transcendent. Every scene with Riley crackles with energy that the rest of the film just doesn’t have. It’s a shame she doesn’t have more screen time.

Herman: Aubrey Plaza is proof that “BDE” is a gender-neutral concept.

7. Should Abby have left Harper for Riley?

Baker: All I’m saying is I felt physical pain when Abby had to leave the friendly confines of that booth with Riley to go get hazed at a bar literally called Fratty’s.

Adeniran: Oh, 100 percent. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza is scintillating, and for a second I legitimately forgot Mackenzie Davis was in the movie. Now I understand why Abby and Riley couldn’t get together in the movie, but I’m going to imagine an alternate universe where, a year later, Abby and Riley are enjoying their relationship together and Harper is at home celebrating Christmas with a different new girlfriend. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Halliwell: The internet says yes, but I say no. As stated in my blog last week, it would take more than some sassy side-eye to steal me away from my queen Mackenzie. I feel like everyone on Team Riley has forgotten about these life-changing pictures of Mackenzie Davis. Take a look and get back to me.

Herman: The real question is: Why would you put such an obvious alternate ending in your movie if you didn’t want everyone to point it out?

Holmes: Riley, played by the legendary Aubrey Plaza, is way too charming, smart, and self-assured to take on any excess baggage from Abby and Harper. Despite Harper being the villain of Happiest Season, Abby could’ve cut this movie by a good 30 minutes by just peacing out.

Gruttadaro: I get the impulse to say yes—the things Harper does in Happiest Season are potentially unforgivable, so why not run off with the much-cooler doctor lady? But think about what you’re saying: You want Abby to start a long-term relationship with her ex’s first girlfriend? You think this would be a healthy choice for her? How about a compromise: They just hook up on New Year’s Eve and Abby never talks to Riley or Harper again.

8. What holiday should Kristen Stewart tackle next?

Baker: NOT St. Patrick’s Day at Fratty’s, that is for sure. Probably Halloween. Is it too late to get her into that Scream reboot scheduled for 2022??

Halliwell: It’s time to confront all that vampire-related trauma. Get back on the horse, Kristen!

Holmes: I would pay good money to watch Kristen Stewart grimace door-to-door in search of the true meaning of Halloween.

Gruttadaro: The Fourth of July. Oh, wait. She kind of already did that—I’m gonna go rewatch the criminally underrated Adventureland.

Herman: Passover. Sexuality aside, she actually seems pretty much at home in a family of repressed WASPs—put her in a crowd of loud Jews and see what happens!

Adeniran: Arbor Day. It sounds insane, but hear me out. Aubrey Plaza plays the owner of a billion-dollar corporation that wants to cut down a substantial amount of trees to build a new living complex. Plaza gets kidnapped by a group of tree hugging extremists led by, guess who … Kristen Stewart! At first, they bicker because they’re from two completely different worlds but after a few quips, some hijinks, and one well-placed misunderstanding, they fall in love and save the forest together.

I would break my remote replaying that film.