Happiest Season

[3 stars]

Sure it’s predictable and sappy at times, but for her sophomore film Clea Duvall’s (But I’m a Cheerleader, Veep) holiday offering is a nice balance of the honest and the absurd. It is also primarily women running the show.

At the core of the story are Kristen Stewart (Underwater) and Mackenzie Davis (Irresistible), who’s relationship gets thrown into disarray when they go home to Davis’s family for Christmas. The story then veers between poignant and outlandish moments as Davis and her sibs devolve into their childhoods. Frankly, other than the extremes, not an unusual situation.

Mary Steenburgen (Book Club) and Victor Garber (I’ll Follow You Down) provide the clueless parents driving their children to act out. And Davis is joined by Alison Brie (The Little Hours) and Mary Holland (Homecoming) in the extreme sport of sibling rivalry. It all gets a bit beyond credibility, but anyone with brothers or sisters will recognize the truth in it.

From the sidelines are two important, and more grounded, roles that keep it all on track: Aubrey Plaza (Damsels in Distress) and Dan Levy ( Schitt’s Creek). With the help of these two, Stewart navigates the holiday weekend and finds her own truths and needs. Plaza’s performance is a nice, contained shift for her while Levy is more grounded than usual, but he isn’t bringing anything much new to his performance, even though it still works.

This isn’t a brilliant movie, but it is sweet and funny and at the edges of a holiday tale without shoving it down your throat. Christmas is the background, not the purpose, which makes it all rather palatable. For a warming distraction and a chuckle it isn’t a bad choice for an evening.

Happiest Season Poster

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