Happy (iest) season?
Happy – this is the first word that comes into my mind when I think of Christmas. For those of you who met me, you know that I am a full-time Christmas nerd. I am a sucker for all the lights, ornaments, decoration, snow – cheer and joy in the purest form. But this time of year is much more complex and definitely not just read or green (yup, I came up with this seasonal equivalent of black and white for the purpose of this text). Happiest season debuted on HULU on Thanksgiving. And it is not another typically sweet Christmas movie.
This is why I avoid Christmas. It brings out the worst in everything.
Last year I shared with you some deep thoughts about Christmas – I tried to light up the mood but there is a dark side to every family holiday. We should stop denying that everything and everyone is perfect. The sooner we accept that, the better. But I will go back to that thought in just a minute. The reason I was interested in this film was because Dan Levy stars in it and boy – I have fallen into the Schitt’s Creek den and I am not coming back, like EVER. Now I fully understand (and completely agree with) all the awards this show, the cast and crew got. But hey, this is subject for another post, right? Promise!
So yeah, when I read that Kristen Stewart is taking the lead, I was a little… Well, let me just say – I never considered her as my favorite actress. For me, she was just plain and vanilla and not very good with facial expressions. I was really surprised that I enjoyed her performance, mainly because she finally played a character she could identify with.
And this is something important which is why I will use Happies Season as a cover for many personal stories you may know from all around you. Because no matter how hard we try to hid our true selves, it never works. It might seem that way, but it’s just digging a deeper hole of shame and unhappiness.
I haven’t had a family Christmas in 10 years.
Story kicks off with Abby (Kristen) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) going on a neighborhood tour to see Christmas decorations – in Harper’s opinion, that should jump-start happy Abby. Happy about Christmas, which sadly are no longer a cherished memory. Few years back, I was pretty much the same – I would impose the holiday joy on everyone at home, at work… Some people just smiled and shook their heads: Here we go again… Some would join me in the excitement. But like I said – Christmas is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s never just green (black) or red (white).
For me, it was always a fun time. Carefree… Up until December 22nd, 2011 when my mum got a call from grandma – my grandpa lost in a brave fight to prostate cancer. It was 10 pm at night and we were alone at home. I don’t remember where my brother was, but my dad was at work, in Germany. She came into my room, said what she needed to say and left. My mum wanted and needed to be alone.
I was 18 and all I could remember was my birthday that year. I had two parties – one for friends and one for family. This was the last time I talked with my grandpa and I… His voice was so weak. On my laps there were gifts from him – a necklace (owl with a watch) and t-shirt. I still have both and it’s easier for me to wear the locket than the shirt. In fact, I haven’t even tried it on.
It is a green tee, from an annual run that is held in Dziwnow – the city where my grandparents lived. The city, where I spent all my summer vacations for 18 years. The run, in which I took part as a 9-year-old. I trained under my grandpa’s watchful eye and managed to be 3rd in my age-range. Which was a huge deal for me, because I hated running, especially when it was timed.
I still love Christmas but ever since he passed away, it brings something else to the happiness and cheer – unbearable sadness.
We have been so worried about seeming perfect, but maybe we don’t even know what perfect is.
So, now that I am a little older and more bitter, I completely understand people who are not as excited as I used to be for Christmas. I get it. “Perfect Christmas” can cause anxiety and for a few years now, I’ve been observing the madness rising. It’s really hard, especially when you are single. Or unhappily married, divorced, gay. Just basically – if you are not perfect enough. And this is one of the issues we see in Happiest Season – Abby and Harper are a happy couple but (and there always must be a “but” in films like this) Harper lied about coming out to her parents. At first it seemed to me, like she was just protecting her image of a perfect, golden child – but as it turns out, there was more to that.
I’ve never been in a position like this and we can all agree that “single-stigma” is less harmful than coming out these days. Trust me – it hurts like hell to be the only single “young lady” in the crowd, it really does. But I can only imagine the pain flowing through one’s heart, knowing that their family can despise them. Their own blood could just… Turn on them, because they chose love they wanted. One of my closest friends is gay and he is lucky to have the most supporting family, but I know people less fortunate.
Love is all about accepting – our choices (not only when it comes to partners, but everything: wine labels, TV shows, Marvel or DC etc.) and making sure that we feel confident in them. Making sure that we stay true and most importantly – we never hid who we really are. So, when Harper asked her girlfriend Abby to pretend she is her straight roommate, it broke Abby’s heart. And you know what? I completely relate.
How’s it going? I’m just taking a break from diagnosing everyone’s mystery illnesses. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop or anything, I was already out there before you came out. You didn’t see me. But, um, I can relate.
Few Christmases ago, I was still happy about all the fuss and mess and my mum yelling at me that we are not ready with nothing. Once again, typical mum, right? Anyway, one night I was decorating gingerbreads and she decided to help. We ended up talking all everything – studies, me going back to work and obviously the fact that I am single. My dad wisely decided not to take part in the discussion.
My mum was still high on the vision of my brother finally settling down with a good girl, having a son – a perfect life after the shitload of storms he put us through. I knew where this was going, but you know – I hoped till the end that she would back off. She was going on and on that I am “too smart” (which I am not, but I do like to use my brain, thank you very much), “too picky” (again – I am not, and I will not settle for ANYONE, just because), “too intimidating” (oh, because I know my way around most “manly” tools or because I am managing life on my own, with no man telling me what to do?), “too much with nerd stuff” (now this was a real insult and I think that of all things she said to me, this one hurt the most).
As on command, my brain just wandered back to early March 2020, when pubs were still open and I met up with my friends for drinks. I was so happy that night! We finally managed to work our busy schedules. Anyway, my point – one of my friends said that it’s “weird” that I watch the same film more than once, that he can’t understand my obsessions with Star Wars or… And he was cut off by my other friend who said: “Dude. This is one of the things I love her for! This is what makes her unique!”
The reason I am telling you all this is because I am not sure, if there is anyone in this world, I could pretend to be someone else for. That’s what Abby did for Harper and I understand that she did it for love. She wanted Harper to be happy. But… Her own happiness was messed with – and it should never be this way in love. My happiness cannot stand in the way of yours, never.
It’s not so bad! It’s kind of fun having a secret.
Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing more erotic than concealing your authentic selves!
Oh, it is bad. Can you imagine? I mean, I tried to picture myself being ordinary – hell yes, I said it. I know damn well that I am not, and I don’t see any reason to hide it. Look: I hope this doesn’t sound obnoxious; this was not my intent. I like being nerd, I love the fact that it makes me stand out.
And it’s not for the egoistic reason, not a bit. I love that I can share my passion and knowledge of Star Wars or pop culture with people and I hope that they love to learn about it. As much as I love to learn new things. Now, close your eyes and imagine me trying to stifle down the spark inside me – the one that lights the fire – just because some guy thinks that I am too much. Or too intelligent, too loud, too quiet, too goofy.
The thing is – something so personal about you will find its way out eventually. So, throughout the film we watch Abby learn more and more about the person she loves, only to find herself questioning her feelings. Turns out, Harper’s been hiding a lot from her and with her parents she is the perfect little girl – the one you could put on display for the world to wonder.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you guys sooner, but I know how much appearances and reputation matter to you.
Unhealthy family dynamics is an issue I know all too well. My brother was always the smarter one, but he got lost on the way. As a young girl, I tried everything to steal his spotlight – be better, funnier, more fun-loving. But I failed, so eventually I stopped trying. I was pretending to be someone I’m not – an extrovert with natural talent to manipulate people. In fact, I am more of an introvert so I guess my mind followed and I backed to my corner. My brother was meant to shine at every party. And him losing the way for a few years did not stop him.
I know that my parents love me no matter what – they finally accepted that I am fine living a single life. They finally accepted my introversion and the fact that it can kick in at the most unexpected moment and there is nothing they can do to fix it. Not, that there is anything to fix – but sadly, it is another stigma in our society. I am happy, for real this time.
Stepping away from Abby and Harper for a moment, let’s focus on sibling’s relationship in the film. Harper has 2 sisters – Jen and Sloan. Jen is ignored by her family, treated like an outcast and used as a helper. Sloan is trying to compete with Harper for being called dad’s favorite. She has the perfect family and she sacrificed her professional career to raise her children and do a side business with her husband.
Our entire life we have been expected to be these perfect, golden children. Love in our house wasn’t something we just got for free. It is something that we competed for and if we veered off their course, we lost it.
Sadly, the parents are to blame, always! They set the expectations and the bar so high for their children – even though they sometimes do that unconsciously. Like, when they have friends over and people start to brag about kids. Parents expect us, children, to be perfect – the way they imagined. And being single or gay or divorced or (enter just any word that you’d like). And yes, we are still talking about family. Where love should be unconditional, limitless and forever.
Like I said – my parents love me and I love them. I also know that they want the best for me, which is not always in my best interest. I know it’s a little hard to explain, but listen: they can’t live your life for you. At some point, they will have to accept the fact, that you are your own person, capable of making reasonable (or not) choices, as well as mistakes. This is the circle of life at its very best and yet all parents I know have a hard time dealing with this. It takes a lot of strength and courage to stand up to your own blood. Be brave and true to yourself, which is the most important thing in life. Be happy.
In Happiest Season, it all comes down to the parents’ realization that they were the reason their daughters kept secrets. They never created a safe space for them to tell them everything. Which is way too real for all people and it makes me really sad. But you know, it’s a movie and everything is possible. And it’s not a flaw – it’s a spark of hope for all the strugglers out there.
Okay, so I might have been a little judgmental when we last spoke. You are in an unusual situation, and as your friend I should have created a safe space for you to share without the threat of criticism.
I really liked the casting choices and I think that Kristen was finally her true, happy self with this character. Her performance was a little dramatic but overall, I really enjoyed it. But there was only one reason I watched this film for – Dan Levy. He was a sidekick character, Abby’s best friend. He was the voice of reason and someone who shed new light at her situation. Abby looked at it through her eyes, trying to understand Harper’s point of view. But it was John (so, Dan Levy) who changed her perception about coming out:
“My dad kicked me out of the house and didn’t talk to me for 13 years after I told him. Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version, and everything in between. But the one thing all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words. When your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying! And once you say those words, you can’t un-say them. A chapter has ended, and a new one’s begun. You have to be ready for that. You can’t do it for anyone else.”
Levy’s performance was A+, not only because he managed to stay funny – I see him as an absolute sweetheart in real life. I wish I had such a guy in my corner. On the other hand, I have most supportive friends. And lately even family, but this is work in progress.
Mackenzie Davis, as predicted, just pissed me off for most of the film, as her character seemed selfish and egocentric. In the end it worked in her favor. But I had a feeling that she took Abby and their life together for granted. But you know, love is also about second chances. It was nice to see Alison Brie in a role that suits her “resting bitch face” – I know the struggle girl! Rest of the cast was pretty standard and not very “intrusive”, which is good because the start could shine.
Have you managed to get a man’s permission to take ownership of an adult, human woman yet?
One more thing I loved in this film was mocking the marriage and its institution. Including being old-fashioned and asking for permission. John’s point of view is in a way my point. I don’t think in times we live in; marriage means the same thing it used to 30-40 years ago. Today, instead of fixing relationships, we end them. It’s more convenient, it’s easier, it’s happy. These days, new relationships are one swipe away and I can’t handle this pressure. The Internet is yet another place you must be perfect and the only “easier” thing about it is, that you are the one creating content.
I tried and it failed – even though I had high hopes. Maybe too high, but that’s on me. As much as I love technology, there is some old-vinyl loving soul in me. And this is fine, I suppose. We all are free to choose love – the one we want. The one you deserve and the one you are able to give back.
Happiest season is a great watch – I hope that you will not overthink it the way I did. It’s relaxing, with great songs, good cast and an “ordinary” story with a modern twist. Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s vital and it gives life. Ask yourself – are you happy with your life? Are you happy, satisfied and smiling? Or are you bitter, because someone in your life dared to be brave and pursue their path?
You can do that too. You can be happy, for good this time. Happiness, just like love, comes in all shapes and sizes, you just need to spot it. Be happy this Christmas season!