Happiest Season Review
Buckle up, it’s a long one. Here goes…
While not a perfect film of course, it had its moments of being quite lovely. And it had its moments of being frustrating as hell. It had sweetness, a few decent laughs, angst, heart, and a wonderful happy ending. It was amazing to see an LGBTQ-themed film - a Christmas film no less - be something actually high quality, backed by a major studio, and starring recognizable names.
That’s the easy part. Now comes the hard part. My thoughts on the current conflict amongst the LGBTQ community regarding the overall focus of the film, Harper, etc.
Yes, it’s yet another tale based around the trauma of discovering oneself and coming out, and yes that’s frustrating for some people who want to see something else. I fully agree that other kinds of content is needed, desperately. So it’s more than okay to feel that way. Alas…
Some people found it relatable or even inspiring and important and potentially helpful for them or their families, and that’s amazing. Like John said, not everyone has a simple time coming out. For some it’s terrifying, or even dangerous. And some people can never even come out at all. And imagine what an exhausting and lonely life that is for those who can’t. And thus imagine what a comfort and symbol of hope a movie like this can be for them.
I think both perceptions are entirely valid, and if anything the intense disagreement over all of that just goes to show that more LGBTQ content is needed overall so that there is something for everybody. So that there are stories that address LGBTQ issues in order to help people empathize and relate - impacting both LGBTQs and hopefully the people around them into being more accepting - and stories where being LGBTQ isn’t even an issue nor addressed at all, where people simply exist and live and love as human beings without the drama always being tied to being LGBTQ. (I’m working on things like that, btw. Fingers crossed on bringing them to fruition.)
As for how I feel about the characters…
Jane is my favorite. She is amazing. She is hilarious. She deserves the world. End of story.
Riley was dope. Yes, she and Abby had some interesting chemistry. And yes, Riley was in theory a potentially better option on paper than Harper. Alas, it wasn’t their story. I think that pairing being intriguing was a case more of actress chemistry than anything, but ultimately it was cool that this movie showed the various kinds of dynamics between LGBTQ people, in particular women. It was nice having a lesbian couple in the middle, with a gay man as a best friend to the lesbian (rather than the gay man/straight woman cliche) and two lesbians (Abby and Riley) being able to just be friends and confidants and it not become something else. It showed the spectrum of relationships amongst LGBTQs - and that more than one or a single pair exist in a circle of friends - and that was actually really refreshing and accurate.
Harper… sigh. Okay, yes, she wasn’t great for a lot of the film, but she was also going through something heartbreakingly tough. She handled it terribly and took it out on Abby in an overblown and heartless way for a couple days, which wasn’t okay at all. It was horrible. Alas, people are human and sometimes they can react badly. Really badly. As long as they realize, grow and make amends, that is what counts most. Also, people need to take into consideration that aside from her lie which was based entirely in paralyzing fear, she was apparently a kind, caring, and amazing partner prior to that. Even at the very start, we saw Harper repeatedly asking Abby “Are you okay? Are you having fun?” showing her to be considerate and making Abby’s needs and feelings a priority because she knew Abby struggled at Christmas and she wanted to help her experience something better and not just hide in her anti-Christmas hole forever. She wasn’t wanting to force her, she wanted to help her – alas ultimately it backfired given the conflict, but then also worked out after getting worse and now Abby can hopefully enjoy Christmas again with a new family. If Harper had always been selfish and problematic, this would be a very different conversation and I wouldn’t be taking this perspective at all.
Just remember, Abby even said later that she didn’t recognize Harper. And that’s because Harper reverted back. At first I was frustrated to see her, as a grown ass woman, go back and repeat her past HORRIBLE action against a girlfriend that she did in high school. Then I realized… how utterly sad is it that she was put in such a tough spot that she was triggered and reverted back to that scared, closeted teenager. Alas, in the end, she showed she did grow. She was willing to lay it all out there. And she chased after and repeatedly apologized to Abby. And we have to hope that from there, with that half lifetime of unbearable weight off of her, that she was never that selfish or hurtful again. Because the things she said to Abby weren’t even about Abby, they were about her. She felt suffocated by the situation and her family, and she deflected that and lashed out at poor Abby because that’s what we sadly do as humans – we hurt those we love the most, who are closest to us, because they’re “easy” targets. Again, not okay. Not okay at all. But it’s important to understand the psychology behind it, to see the goodness in her prior and otherwise, and especially the growth in the end.
Harper, overall, is not perfect. Far from it. And as half of the leading romantic couple… yeah, it was hard to watch sometimes for that reason. But I think if you take a step back, it’s a somewhat accurate representation for someone in her position who reacts badly. She’s deeply flawed, but seems ultimately like someone who genuinely means well but tends to fuck up when pushed to her breaking point. And that’s… well, that’s human.
What bothers me is that I have seen people go as far as calling Harper abusive, but I really wish people would stop tossing that term around so flippantly. Emotional/mental abuse is all about patterns of harmful behaviors demonstrated by someone in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) in order to exercise extended power and dominance over their victim. Pairings who are otherwise solid, who started off healthy, have mutual respect etc but have a blow up or issue where one or both says or does super hurtful things, but they recover, make amends and are stronger than ever? That is not an abusive relationship. That’s a situation where a pair hits a bump, they see the worst in each other (though this time it was admittedly one-sided since Harper was the one with the weight of being closeted on her) but come out stronger in the end.
There’s a whole spectrum that ranges from: someone is just not great sometimes, to someone is hard to take all the time, to someone is toxic, to someone is abusive. But with fiction lately, especially within and surrounding the LGBTQ community, some viewers immediately label every single conflict, temporary issue, etc as “abuse” and “toxicity” without taking into consideration any of the surrounding events or previous (or following) characterization, and it can be extremely harmful to do so, as it diminishes real abuse.
Harper is not an abuser. For all we know, she’s never lied to Abby about anything else except her family situation/being out. And yeah she was extremely selfish and unpleasant when she was cornered and terrified. And her actions were, for a couple days, very hurtful and in no way excusable. But understanding why someone does something isn’t the same as excusing it. It’s just called empathy. Abby deserved better in those moments. And yeah, maybe even overall. But for now, all anybody can do is take Harper’s evolution at face value since she and they were clearly fairly solid before, and just hope she’ll always treat Abby with nothing but love and respect for the rest of their lives, and in 20 years they look back and have a laugh about the whole thing and never have problems anywhere remotely that harmful again.
All in all: at times frustrating, but ultimately solid little film. Never did it tell people it would present a perfect, infallible LGBTQ relationship so for anyone saying “this was bad representation”… just keep that in mind.
Would it have been nice to have Harper be totally likable except for a bad moment or two when pressured? Sure. They probably should’ve shown more of them as a solid pair and Harper at her best before all of this to really get us on board with Harper before seeing her at her worst. You can tell they made that attempt in the opening, and perhaps that was something that should’ve been stretched out a tad more, structurally - while also peppering in more of “good Harper” in between the bad. Like her more openly and firmly defending Abby on the mall theft thing. Or Abby having a sad moment while watching the family and remembering her parents, and Harper comforting her through it. Instead, it was always John or Riley being there for Abby while Harper not only abandoned her but also kept being the one to hurt her, and it didn’t have to be like that. Definitely coulda been a tad more balanced to help the characterization of Harper as a good person in a bad spot reacting badly.
Speaking of, from a writing perspective, one small but major change that would’ve helped on that front, was if they’d had her having always been honest with Abby that she wasn’t out with her family, and being roped into a Christmas with them, rather than lying about it and ambushing Abby at the last second. Or even having gone home with the intention of coming out to them with Abby by her side, then finding out about her dad’s political situation and panicking and they both decide together to fake it (maybe Abby even suggesting it or pulling the first lie to the family to protect a frozen Harper) until he lands the donor, which then leads to craziness. A small, simple change like this could’ve helped the reception of Harper tremendously with the audience and put them both on level playing field and in a sort of “they’re a team, it’s them vs the world/Harper’s family” situation, during which Harper could’ve still taken her bad turn and done hurtful things for dramatic plot purposes, alas the overall setup would’ve painted Harper in a less awful light from the get, and made Abby an active participant rather than someone who gets thrown to the wolves out of nowhere by Harper and just constantly takes unfair hit after hit after hit from every single direction, Harper included.
Because while the audience saw Abby feeling hurt, being isolated, and even at times near tears… Harper really didn’t. For the most part she was too busy being stuck in her own trauma. Too busy trying to survive her own personal hell. So we saw poor Abby. We felt for poor Abby. And by the time Harper really noticed or realized what she was putting Abby through, it was all too far gone. I think another thing on this front that could’ve helped was focusing more on Harper’s struggle. We kinda needed that balance. Again, this was a writing and focus issue. We sat with Abby so much and saw her pain, but we didn’t sit with Harper as much. We saw her put in bad spots, certainly. But didn’t see her pain. We just saw how she was reacting to her pain and all her bad actions because of it – usually through the eyes of poor Abby whom it was hurting so deeply. We even had to find out how Harper was feeling from John, rather than from Harper herself. A solution for this could’ve been Harper talking to Jane, maybe even in sort of code or around the topic instead of outright. Something intimate where Harper asks about one of the characters in her novel who is hiding themselves and how scared they are. And them having a tender, heartbreaking, also somewhat humorous exchange that humanized Harper and her pain more.
Anyway, it had such a great cast. At times good messaging and a nice lesson here and there. For what it was meant to be, it was solid enough. I’m so glad some people loved or connected to it so much that they talk about watching it every year from now on. And for those who hated it or felt like it was poorly marketed as a feel good film when it had a lot of moments that felt like a beat down, especially mid-film, I completely understand. I hear you and in some ways I sorta agree… alas maybe just say you didn’t like it, or didn’t like Harper, and leave it at that because eviscerating it as “trash, miserable, etc” and labeling Harper and their entire relationship as “abusive” or “toxic as hell”, etc is potentially harmful and invalidating for people reading your words who maybe related to Harper’s worst moments and loved the story and found it portrayed their experience in an authentic way, or even better yet - gave them hope that one day they can come out and have their family accept them after some conflict the way Harper’s ultimately did, or that they can make mistakes and go through a tough time and bounce back and find love the way Harper did.
Just keep in mind, no film is perfect. And with so little LGBTQ content out there, I’ve noticed that sometimes what content there is gets unfairly held to a nearly impossible standard, especially compared to everything else. You never want to make excuses for outright terrible messaging or horrible representation, especially when it’s written/created by cis hetero people who don’t understand the errors of their ways and need to be called out. But this was a film co-written and directed by a lesbian and starring a multiple LGBTQ actors from across the spectrum (Garber, Stewart, Levy, Plaza, etc). So, keep that in mind. And keep in mind that everybody’s experience is entirely different, and entirely valid.