“I love holiday movies, but I’ve never seen my own experience represented in one. Most romantic comedy holiday movies tend to revolve around a heterosexual couple, and if there are LGBTQ characters, they’re in the background. 'Happiest Season' felt like a way to tell a universal story from a different perspective," director Clea DuVall shared about the creation of 'Happiest Season', a heartwarming new film with Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis starring as Abby and Harper, a couple who head home for the holidays, but not before Harper reveals to Abby that she hasn't come out to her family.
The resulting film is full of laughter, love, pain, and sheer Christmas joy, with a stellar ensemble cast including Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Mary Steenburgen (as Harper's mom), and Alison Brie and Mary Holland as Harper's two sisters (Holland also co-wrote the film with DuVall).
We spoke with Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis about the importance of the film, their own Christmas plans, love languages, and more...
COUP DE MAIN: It must be so surreal for you, but ‘Happiest Season’ is out in actual cinemas here in New Zealand. Do you have a message for New Zealanders, who can experience it in cinemas?
MACKENZIE DAVIS: Enjoy your hard-earned freedom. Your well-led freedom.
KRISTEN STEWART: You deserve it!
MACKENZIE: I'm so proud of you guys. It's so great. Celebrate, and celebrate by going to see the movie. It's so fun and lovely.
CDM: So many LGBTQ+ films follow character's stories which end in tragedy or sadness - and I think this film is so important because of the happiness and joy that it portrays, which is going to be so powerful for queer people to see on-screen. What do you want these communities and people that can relate to the characters, to take away from seeing ‘Happiest Season’?
KRISTEN: Hopefully, to go to the movies and watch a big movie and not have to go and find your story on a smaller screen, or download it, or watch it on YouTube, or somehow get to a festival and hope that maybe they find the legs to get to your town. I happen to live in LA, Mackenzie is in London right now, and we have access to smaller fringy movies, but it's really rad to find yourself visible in something so big, and it is definitely not normal. So I would be like, "Enjoy! Swim around in it. And hope for more!" I do think it's happening.
CDM: Harper’s character has a real struggle with love in her family - she says, “Love wasn’t something we got for free, it was something that we competed for.” Family relationships can be really hard, especially when siblings feel like they need to compete with one another, and have certain expectations placed upon them. Do you think that the concept of love is something that changes throughout our lives? Like how Harper has a different experience of love with Abby - a more pure form?
MACKENZIE: I think that's why her life is so compartmentalised - not because she's grown out of that one type of love into this other healthy love. She's had to restrict her identity from her hometown, with her family, with her high school, and then sort of having a totally different identity that is her true identity, I think, when she's in Pittsburgh with Abby, and with her friends as an out woman. But she never did that thing where she knit together the childhood trauma of learning a sort of perverted form of love, with the adult, grown, healthy version of love. And so she really has these two selves that are never the twain shall meet...
CDM: Tying in with that, another moment I thought was quite important was when Abby is talking with Riley about which Harper is the 'real' one, and Riley says, "Maybe they both are." Why do you think humans often have slightly different versions of themselves that they become, depending on who they are with? Whether it be around family or different groups of friends?
MACKENZIE: It's survival.
KRISTEN: Because we need to keep going. I think in order to keep going, when you observe that something's going to be more successful in a given group, you highlight that thing. And that's not to say you're changing yourself, per se, I think that there are so many potential versions of myself that live in here <motions inwards>, depending on what's going on out here <motions around her>. It can be really interesting how there are some people whom one version of themselves betrays the other, but there are also ways to be things that are unexpected, that go together, and that maybe someone's perspective is not wide enough, or too narrow to see. And so you go, 'Okay, they're not going to get this one part, so I'm just going to show this part,' and so you start to try to control that. And then it's like, when you try to control it so overtly are you losing yourself? Or are you lying? I think it's very complicated.
CDM: There are so many hilarious literal closet jokes - like when Tipper finds Abby literally hiding in a closet. Was it fun to act out those really ‘on the nose’ jokes amongst the rest of the comedic elements in the film?
KRISTEN: I didn't think about that at all. And we shot that like, 100 times. Every single time, I never put it together.
MACKENZIE: Until I saw the trailer, I never put it together.
KRISTEN: Yes, right? Me neither! Because I heard someone laugh. I was watching it with a couple of friends, and like she was like, "Abby, why are you in the closet?" Like it was the most obvious question. And they were like, "Oh, lol," and I was like, "Oh, ohhhhh!" I felt so caught in that moment that I was like, "Nothing!" I didn't think about it at all.
CDM: When Abby is in one of her darkest moments about her relationship with Harper, she says: “I don’t think that she loves me as much as I thought she did.” It’s so strange that love can be perceived as different by different people, and so many people have different ways of expressing love. What do you think are the ultimate ways to show your love for someone?
MACKENZIE: It depends on the person.
MACKENZIE: Really, and what they need, and love languages. But what means the most to them? Maybe they don't need gifts. But maybe they really want you to build a fence.
CDM: Love languages are so interesting. I'm always discussing them with my friends about how people just have different things they expect and need from other people.
KRISTEN: The worst is to think... I always try and rationalise things, like, 'Look, if this doesn't work, then maybe we're just not the right person for each other.' It's like, 'No! It requires effort, you have to try!' <laughs> Maybe put in the work.
CDM: Yeah, I have a friend that always tells me that love is an action and not a feeling and that always resonates with me a lot.
KRISTEN: And I also resent it. <laughs>
CDM: Clea Duvall has said: "The LGBTQ community deserves happy endings sometimes.” Considering that for the past four years, the US has dealt with a President who literally wants to take freedoms away from LGBTQ communities (from trying to attack the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, banning trans people from serving in the military, and trying to put trans prisoners according to their assigned sex at birth), why do you think that pop-culture representations of queer people and their communities are more important than ever before?
KRISTEN: Because we're constantly trying to pretend like they don't exist, and therefore take all of their rights and humanity away from them. So if they're more present and shown as normal people who actually have feelings, and that can be hurt just the same way that you can... I don't think that people typically are horrible, hateful, fill in the blank, whatever word you want to fill in there, fucking go for it, but yeah, it's because we need to be present or else we will be forgotten.
CDM: Kristen, you said about the movie: “It's a heartwarming, slightly stressful and manic Christmas movie – which are definitely my favourite ones, because that is what Christmas actually feels like.” What do you guys each have planned for this Christmas season?
MACKENZIE: I'm going home to spend time with my parents. I'm justifying the travel because I'm working in Canada right after Christmas, but it means I'm going to spend about a month at my parent's house and I'm curious about that. I'm open and curious about it.
KRISTEN: I'm open, excited and afraid. <laughs> I have a really boring non-answer for that. Nothing. I'm staying in LA. I was actually going to spend the holidays abroad, but then the world changes daily and shut down, and so the prep for my next movie changed slightly. So I'm going to be able to hang out with my family, which is nice.
'Happiest Season' is out in New Zealand cinemas now - watch the trailer below: