Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Dan Levy, and writer-director Clea DuVall tell EW how the queer comedy came together.

By Joey Nolfi
October 16, 2020 at 07:55 PM EDT
Happiest Season
Credit: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures

It's a balmy July afternoon in Los Angeles, but Clea DuVall's edit bay teems with the Christmas spirit. The filmmaker is baking wintry magic into the final cut of her new romantic comedy Happiest Season, and while the usual trimmings of a holiday romp are present — familial high jinks, ugly sweaters — DuVall is also mounting a seasonal revolution with the film by making the Yuletide super-gay.

"I'm writing from my own place of truth and telling the story from my own perspective," the queer actor-director says of the project, co-written with fellow Veep alum Mary Holland. Happiest Season (in theaters Nov. 25) stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a gay couple traveling to the latter's suburban home for her conservative family's annual Christmas party. Harper hasn't come out to her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber), and the mounting pressure of repressed identity threatens to cool the pair's red-hot connection.

"I've spent Christmases with partners whose parents didn't know.… I've been 'the friend' at the family function," DuVall, 43, says. The film delivers a universal message of living up to "killer" expectations of one's kin — only intensified by the couple's sexuality. "On a journey like coming out, you have no idea what's going to happen or how people will react, and it's scary," DuVall explains. "There's a part of your life that changes once you do."

Happiest Season
Credit: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures

Stewart quickly felt the story's importance. "I grew up watching and loving conventional movies like this. Seeing [marginalized] people loving each other in the middle of something that's so standardized was really exhilarating and freeing," says the Charlie's Angels star, 30. "There's a lack of confusion and generalization Clea brings [as a queer woman]. I want people to see that two girls in love is just so fun."

Stewart and Davis were so invested in the film that they stuck with it amid several pushed production dates over the past year, allowing the actresses time to bond. "That's a weird way to get to know someone, going on a date every four months," says Davis (Black Mirror's "San Junipero"), 33. "Once we got [to set], it felt like something just exploded. I fell in love."

That passion gives the film its hopeful tone, rejecting Hollywood's long history of marrying queer romance with tragedy. "There's a tendency for non-queer people to write what they think they know about gay or queer people," says Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy, 37, who plays John, a playful subversion of the "gay best friend" trope who tails Abby to Harper's home to save her from holiday hell. Adds Stewart: "You're not watching [Happiest Season] and going, 'God, what's going to happen to them, because the world is scary?' You already know. It's a f---ing rom-com holiday movie. It'll work out. And you want to see how it does. It's relieving, allowing yourself to breathe. It's a new feeling."

Happiest Season
Credit: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures

Premiering a film with themes of togetherness amid a pandemic is also uncharted territory. Many theaters around the country remain closed, but DuVall is optimistic about releasing Happiest Season, savoring the importance of showing two women smooching under the mistletoe within a genre traditionally steeped in hetero holiday fare.

"We're all apart and we can't see or hug our friends, [so] watching these people connect is moving," DuVall says from her isolated edit bay, with a hint of longing in her voice. "It's such a human story, and it's humanity we're all confronted with right now. Seeing empathy and compassion modeled [on screen], I've been enjoying it. We all need that kind of embrace."

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