“It’s a gay Christmas movie,” says Kristen Stewart. “And I know it’s annoying to label it from the start, but, to me, it’s extremely attractive and it sounds like … a great exhalation.
Quietly and discreetly, Happiest Season feels like a big deal. It is a festive romantic comedy, directed by Clea DuVall, and starring Mackenzie davis as Harper and Stewart as Abby, a couple who are forced to navigate Harper’s wealthy and conservative family at Christmas. For five increasingly frantic days, they have to pretend to be friends living in the same apartment, fearing Harper’s parents will find out they are together. While those ingredients could make for potentially strong drama, Happiest Season turns them into comedy, finding poignant moments amid the clearly written goof and chaos. It’s fun, it’s ambitious, and it’s the first ever gay Christmas rom-com.
“Hasn’t there been a romantic comedy that has queer leads?” Davis asks, sounding unsure.
“That’s probably not true,” Stewart says. “But two girls in a Christmas movie? From a studio like Sony? Absolutely not. “She nuh-uhs to emphasize.” I mean, I didn’t cultivate this experience. I’m not saying, ‘We’re first!’ I’m more than praising the people who invented this. “
In 2017, Stewart hosted Saturday Night Live, telling the audience that she was “like, so gay, dude.” She says that when she was younger, she didn’t have a movie like this. “I did not grow up with a film that had such broad ambition, that had two female leads at the center of a love story, and not in this format. Not to say that great queer content hasn’t been made over the years that has been really beautiful and really important touchstones. But at the same time, it’s not something I grew up with and would have loved. So it feels good to be a part of it. “
Both are speaking from their respective homes in Los Angeles, although Davis is packing to leave his. We spoke in September when forest fires raged in the area and people were being advised to stay indoors. “Mackenzie is unloading her dishwasher, and I’m sitting at my dresser,” Stewart says, as the dishes chirp in the background. “You’re going to hear a lot of background noise,” Davis warns.
They clearly get along. “Fuck Mackenzie, what was it you said that I found so funny?” Stewart says, at one point.
“Do I love you and am I in love with you?” Davis responds, expressionless.
“Riiiight. So we love each other, we are in love, and we made this movie about people who love each other, ”jokes Stewart.
Stewart signed up for Happiest Season first, after DuVall flew to Germany, where Stewart was working, to persuade her to get on board. “We talked about who we could find as a partner for Abby, and we talked about a multitude of people, until we got to Mackenzie and realized there was literally no one else. Fortunately, she wanted to. “
Why did it have to be Davis? “It’s a question that I like to answer, because you can’t say these things about yourself,” says Stewart. “She is such a real person. I wanted this couple, and the way we portray these people, to feel really casual, kind of self-confident. And Mackenzie is fun and contagious, and has a confidence that I find contagious. “They both agree that their chemistry never felt strained.” It was very important to me to show a queer couple feeling fresh and comfortable and in their own skin. No I can watch this movie and say, it’s kind of silly. Fortunately, Mackenzie exists anyway, and there you have it. “
They shot Happiest Season in Pittsburgh, in January and February, with the pandemic out of focus, and they managed to finish it before everything died down. “We would see him approach, like absolute idiots,” recalls Davis. “We’re exactly the same way about the fires in Los Angeles or climate change in general, that if it’s burning on the other side of town, you say, ‘Oh that’s horrible.’ But you don’t change your behavior at all. And then the smoke is in your neighborhood and you say, ‘I just won’t go out.’ We have such a late reaction to things. It is shocking “.
Stewart says this movie “is the only movie that I wouldn’t feel weird about releasing right now.” She points out that it was done just before the world changed dramatically. “So it’s not like” – makes a mocking and cheerful voice – “This is what we are working on now! Because actually, this comes from such a warm and well-intentioned place. A beautiful Christmas movie about people coming together, a family found on the other side of a misunderstanding. It doesn’t make me wonder: why aren’t we having better conversations right now? Because this is a valid and relevant conversation. “
She says there are times when she has felt less comfortable promoting movies or jobs, in the context of what has been happening in the world. “I had to continue Ellen the day after Trump was elected, and he was excited and crazy. I’ve had experiences where I feel like, this feels stupid and I don’t want to do it now. As long as this, it doesn’t seem stupid to me. “
Over the last year or two, it’s been hard not to notice that there are more major movies with prominent same-sex relationships, although it’s worth noting that the shortage above would make anything seem like a glut. Still, from the art house to Netflix, LGBTQ + characters are there, on screen, in greater numbers than before. Why is that? “I think it’s just evidence of progress and desire,” says Stewart. “You know, it’s one foot in front of the other. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever engaged in this thought process that the answer would be: because we’re choking, obviously, and so there needs to be more. “
Davis adds that since it takes time for movies to be made and then released, “these decisions were probably made three or four years ago. So there is a strange delay where we are celebrating now. “In 2016, he starred San Junipero, an uncommon episode of Black Mirror, upbeat and sweet, which tells the story of two women who first met and fell in love in the 80s.
“I was totally dedicated to my own interest,” says Davis. “I wanted to work with these people and I loved this story. I didn’t recognize the cultural significance, because I just wasn’t aware of the lack of this kind of story in queer canon. “That is, a positive story, with a happy ending.
“It wasn’t until it came out that I was like, oh shit, people have been screaming about this, and now there’s a positive interpretation of a queer relationship, that’s not – I mean weirdly, you know, spoiler, they’re dead, but it does not end in a tragic death. There is a feeling of rebirth, which is beautiful. “
She has a theory. “Ugh, this is going to make me sound like an idiot idiot,” he says cautiously, but wonders if San Junipero might have had any role to play in starting this new wave. “Maybe it’s just because it was in the mainstream media, but it was a conversation that I hadn’t been aware of before, and I felt like people were really into these stories.” That doesn’t make you look like an idiot. “I didn’t want to be like, well, it’s for San Junipero!” she says, laughing. “It is not at all. I think charlie [Brooker] he’s someone who was doing something before there was a commercial and critical outcry for it. And then I think smart people in the business recognized that there was a commercial desire for this and they responded to that call. You know what I mean?”
Stewart says that when he saw San Junipero, “my ear perked up at that moment. I was with my first girlfriend and we thought, ‘Oh, that’s on TV, it’s crazy.’ It was definitely something I noticed. And that’s so cool and weird, and now, I’m here with you doing an interview. “
Happier Season is also flying another flag for rom-coms, albeit in a more pointed format: It’s a love story, but it’s pleasantly resistant to sentimentality. There is an argument that romantic comedy has been in decline since its heyday in the 1990s, hit by the big superhero franchises. Do we need more romantic comedies? “I haven’t seen many superhero movies, but selfishly, I prefer a romantic comedy,” says Stewart. “Mackenzie, you did both, you were a fucking superhero.”
Davis played Grace, an “augmented” human soldier, in 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, but she chooses to offer the unaided view. “I will talk about this as a member of the audience. I’ve been watching a lot of romantic comedies recently, because I like to watch funny, digestible movies when I’m doing housework. And you can’t go out because the smoke is so thick in Los Angeles. I love them. I am so comforted by them. “
“I wasn’t expecting that response at all,” says Stewart. “Really? Have you been watching tons of rom-coms?
“Well yes. I just saw Plus One, which is that woman from Pen15 [Maya Erskine]she is so good. And then I saw what I think is one of the best romantic comedies of all time, Sleeping With Other People by Leslye Headland. But there is this kind of perfect, idealized love that is communicated through [romantic comedies] Which seems a bit dangerous to me, ”Davis says. “I think our movie is like, love is tough. And I like that our movie is romantic, and it’s a comedy, and it’s a Christmas movie, but it feels a little less orderly than a traditional rom-com, or some of the ones I’ve been hanging out with in recent weeks. “
“It really is,” adds Stewart. “Like, when Harry met Sally it’s the messiest and scariest thing until they get together, which takes years and years.”
Making a Christmas movie, romantic or not, can be a risky business. Happiest Season makes it, but many others have stumbled. What does it take to make a good holiday movie? “I think a really good Christmas movie feels vivid,” says Stewart. “It feels like pajamas. Like, oh my gosh, those people really know each other, to the point that they hate each other, and then it’s fun again. Usually a good Christmas movie … are you ready for this? “She puts on a cheesy voice:” It makes you believe in christmas. “
As for his favorites, Davis says he saw Home Alone a lot growing up. “And I’ve never been an identifier for Love, Actually, but I think I am. Hugh Grant is very talented. If you see four good performances in a row, he is a brilliant artist. I guess that’s my Christmas movie. “
It’s divisive, I say. People either love it or hate it.
“I think I’ve been right in the middle where I’m like, sure that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean anything to me, but I think it’s great. Um, why do people hate it? ” she asks.
Well, some people think that Andrew Lincoln’s story is creepy.
“Oh, what does Keira Knightley steal from her best friend? But it makes a series of signals! “
Stewart intervenes. “I probably shouldn’t mention this, but fuck it. I also felt a little weird for the guy who… Colin Firth is going after someone he’s never talked to. And I understand that love transcends language barriers, but at the same time … I probably shouldn’t have said this … “
“Guys,” Davis says suddenly. “I have to say something.”
“What the fuck?” Stewart says, alarmed.
“I hate love, actually. I withdraw what I said before. “
“Honestly, I felt like I was digging this hole!” Stewart says. “And then you really jumped in and helped me, as you agree. I don’t have a favorite Christmas movie. I think that is the basic truth of this conversation. But I’ve seen love, actually. “
It took a while, but we got to the truth.
“I know,” Davis says happily. “There was so much performance, and we finally cut it all down.”
Stewart sounds relieved. “You really are my favorite person of all time.”
• Happiest Season is available to buy and rent starting November 26
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