Ask Clea DuVall, the director of the holiday rom-com Happiest Season, for her favorite shot from the film, and she’ll know her answer, no problem. It has to be the one of Aubrey Plaza, who plays Riley, in the bar scene. No, wait, she’s a big fan of that shot toward the end of the film, when several of the lead characters are gathered in the living room. Or, actually, maybe it’s—
“I have a lot,” DuVall admitted as we spoke about the film over Zoom. “I feel like I watch the movie, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I love that, and I love that, and I love that. I love the thing that Kristen did here, and the thing that Dan did here, and Mary here, and Victor! I’m so in love with everybody in the movie that it’s kind of embarrassing.”
It’s early in December, and DuVall—sporting a festive red-and-green striped shirt—sounds beyond giddy about her work. She has good reason to be thrilled: Over Thanksgiving weekend, Happiest Season broke records on Hulu, attracting more new subscribers than any other film on the platform, and becoming the streamer’s most-watched original movie during its opening weekend.
Happiest Season provides a welcome dose of warmth for audiences desperate for respite this year. The film is packed with pandemic-free, Christmastime touchstones. There’s a walking tour of holiday decorations, a scene set at an ice-skating rink, and even a white-elephant gift exchange. But the film isn’t just a holiday rom-com; it’s the first major entry in the genre to feature a same-sex couple. Abby (played by Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) must keep their relationship a secret from Harper’s conservative family over the holidays. In that sense, DuVall, with her co-writer, Mary Holland, have made the yuletide truly gay.