Usually, I’m not one to watch romcoms or holiday movies (I haven’t seen many movies in general). For a few years, my brother and sisters had a tradition of watching It’s A Wonderful Life during Christmas after seeing it for the first time in fifth grade. This year my sister and I decided to sit down and watch Clea Duvall’s Happiest Season, a rom-com centered around Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) relationship and a trip to Harper’s family home. The ending of the movie sparked mixed feelings among viewers, which is what sparked our interest. And of course, we wanted to see our favorite actors like Aubrey Plaza and Daniel Levy, to name a few.
Happiest Season contains delightful moments of humor and overall gay and lesbian representation, however, my sister and I were shaking our heads by the end of the movie. Spoilers ahead!
Red flags, red flags everywhere!
I’m not saying Harper does not deserve forgiveness by the end. Both of them were in rough situations. Although, I felt Abby is made the brunt of the secret relationship throughout the movie.
Abby finds out on the drive over that Harper did not come out to her parents or tell them about their relationship. Harper’s fears and hesitations are valid, but she also removed Abby’s ability to choose. Her autonomy as a person is blocked. Her only choice is to push through, regardless of what her feelings are. Granted, it is a good point of tension and drama. It also reveals a crack in their relationship.
The foundation of their relationship takes another blow when Abby learns the whole story between Harper and her first girlfriend, Riley. In high school, Harper pushes Riley out of the closet in a moment of panic to stay closeted herself. Harper’s denial of her and Riley’s relationship is a direct parallel to the situation Abby finds herself in (and Riley points this out). We see the deeper issues Harper avoids, leading her to fail Abby in significant ways.
Having gone through this, I was frustrated with Abby’s decision to stay with Harper. I see it as a betrayal of Abby’s expressed desire to be with someone who is ready to be open with themselves and their sexuality. Riley is taken up by fans as that ready person. As much as I would have loved to see Abby and Riley run off into the sunset together, I don’t think the story needed an ending with Abby coupled at all.
Two things can be true
During the gas station scene, I sat there wishing I was John, Daniel Levy’s character, and stop my friend from going back into a toxic relationship. Before then, he was urging Abby to leave and choose better for herself. He even drove to bring her home, restoring her ability to leave. When the pivotal moment comes, John changes his tune. His out-of-place approval felt like a cue for the audience. One to tell us that everything is okay now and to gloss over the hurtful things that Harper and her family did to Abby.
Riley and John both see that Abby is struggling. They give advice and push her towards choosing herself, but it all falls apart in the end. Abby needed someone to remind her that she can choose herself and not the survival of a relationship for survival’s sake. Harper’s apology was important and was only a first step. I don’t think there is enough done to hold her accountable for her actions then and in the past. Yet the movie took her apology and declaration of love as the neat bow on top of Harper’s over-night transformation.
Before that scene, John makes a good point saying that Harper can love Abby and still do these hurtful things. Riley makes the same conclusion: both versions of Harper, the one that Abby knows and loves, and the Harper who is afraid and hiding herself are the same person. She will need time to grow, and her growth will come with mistakes. It’s natural and part of the process. Abby deserved the time and space to consider if she wants to be part of the process. Especially in the role of a significant other.
Breakups aren’t always “bad” endings
Saying you’re sorry and that you’ll do better is easy. For years Harper curated herself around her father’s approval and the ideals of their small town. Fear can make us act out in self-preserving ways; Harper is not a bad person for acting out in fear. With this ending tough, Harper’s internal struggles are seemingly resolved overnight. I felt that Abby’s emotions and needs took a backseat in the end. Harper’s fear of losing Abby takes priority over the hurt and disrespect Abby feels throughout the movie.
Maintaining a relationship with a part of the foundation being guilt doesn’t sound like the happiest ending to me. Nor does it sound like the healthiest relationship, at least not at this point of the movie, and it’s not fair to either of them. Forgiveness is important, but so is accountability. Like in most of the movie, big decisions are made in the heat of the moment. Abby doesn’t get the space she needs when it’s most important, and I think she should have gotten it. They both needed time to sit with themselves and figure out what they want from the relationship now that this shift has happened.
Break-ups can be a new start—an opportunity to grow and have more experiences with other people. Abby could still love Harper and support her growth as a friend rather than a significant other. While at the same time, be in a relationship with someone who meets her needs. They could have stayed broken up but remain as friends. Then maybe they get back together off-screen during the one year jump. That way, we know that time has passed, and they’ve both reached a healthier emotional space. Or, at least, you would like to hope.