Happiest Season Is a Cautionary Tale to Avoid Any and All Harpers for the Rest of Your Days
Avoid any Harpers for Christmas, for New Years, forEVER!
Spoilers for Hulu’s Happiest Season.
About Happiest Season.
Let me just say that, right off the bat, that the premise of “girl forgets to even tell her partner that she’s not out to her family as they drive to meet the parents” never sat well with me. Even with the holiday music chiming in the background, nothing about that scenario read as a “charming Christmas story” to me. Call me cynical or whatever, but I’m a Black woman with a white wife who’s got conservative-as-hell parents, and had she pulled that Get Out shit on me as we drove down an empty road toward rich suburbia, we would’ve had a serious problem.
Still, I wanted to give the movie a shot because it’s an LGBTQ+ holiday movie and I’m all for adding queer characters under the mistletoe. I was ready to write a piece about how no one should ever Oops! All Berries their closeted status outside their parents’ door, but after watching the movie I realized that Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is MUCH WORSE than she appears to be in the trailer. She’s basically the central antagonist, the villain if you will, who’s a master gaslighting manipulator and comes from a whole family of them.
So, let’s talk about it.
The basic premise of the movie is that Harper is a closeted queer woman who is bringing her girlfriend, Abby (Kristen Stewart), to meet her family for the holidays. This means that they have to play the “roommate” game, something I’m all too familiar with, as this is the story my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I came up with when spending the holidays with her family.
The difference, however, is that this is something my wife and I discussed extensively with each other, not a cobbled-together excuse we had to make the day of because my wife forgot to mention that she wasn’t out. We did the same with my family until we were ready to tell all of them. Moral of the story? Communicate with your partner beforehand. It’s not a far stretch of the queer imagination that someone might be closeted to a certain group of people; you just have to tell us first.
I thought that’s what Harper’s arc was going to be, but oof, how wrong I was. Harper is one of the most selfish women I’ve seen in a long time, and I kinda hate that she uses being closeted as an excuse for bad behavior.
At the start of the movie, it looks like a typical “my girlfriend is a grinch during the holidays, I’m going to cheer her up with sweaters and hot cocoa” scenario, but then we find out that Abby doesn’t like Christmas because her parents are dead and they used to celebrate all the time. Harper knows this, as this is something Abby has talked to her about. Before we find out that parental trauma, Harper invites Abby to her family Christmas because maybe that’ll cheer her up this holiday season.
“Wait, so … she extends the invitation?” I asked as I watched with my wife. Abby still doesn’t know that Harper isn’t out to her family, btw, and since Abby hasn’t had a family Christmas in years, she agrees and is even excited by the idea. Harper hesitates but decides to roll with it until they’re on the drive to her parents’ place, where she tells the truth.
“Ok, so … this is the part in the trailer,” I said to my wife. “The part where she tells her that she’s not out.” Cool. I knew it was coming.
The trailer didn’t reveal this little nugget of information: not only is Harper not out to her parents, we find out that Harper told Abby that she came out to her parents over the summer. In fact, according to Harper, her parents took it well. “So she lied?!” That’s my wife and I hitting pause and shrieking at the TV to take a moment to reflect on the absurd amount of queer caucacity that’s hit Hulu this holiday season, because we find out later that Abby’s parents accepted her being a lesbian, which means, in hindsight, that Abby thought she was going to a holiday space that was accepting of her sexual identity, a space she’s avoided for years because of the death of her parents.
See why Harper’s trash? Cool, now let’s light that garbage up to make an entire dumpster fire.
This next bit is a personal belief of mine, but I truly think that if there’s strife within your family, you need to warn your partner ahead of time. Harper’s family is the poster child of dysfunctional, in desperate need of therapy with seemingly no financial barriers to getting it, but they don’t because all their problems get wrapped in a pretty li’l bow for that Instagram family pic of Scotch-taped perfection. Abby has to attempt to navigate all that PLUS step back in the closet PLUS talk about her parents, a lot. Why? Because Harper told her parents that Abby was her roommate who had nowhere to go since her parents are dead.
Yes, Harper, I’m sure Abby’s just fine standing by the Christmas tree and being referred to as an orphan DURING THE HOLIDAY THAT YOU KNOW CAUSES HER GRIEF. I’m also sure she’s fine sitting at dinner with your parents as they make homophobic comments about someone’s “lifestyle choice.”
Oh, but we’re not quite at dumpster fire status yet, believe it or not.
Cue not one, but TWO of Harper’s exes showing up, one of which Abby didn’t know was male, the other another victim of Harper’s lies. That’s Riley (Aubrey Plaza), the one the Internet rallied behind—the one with the lifestyle choice. I’ll get to Riley later. Right now, it’s time to read Harper for filth because she never EVER has Abby’s back. She often leaves her to flounder about on her own at family functions, making it up to her with manipulative “Is it awkward? I’m sorry. I love you.” statements or by sneaking down to her room when everyone’s sleeping. We’re supposed to think this is sweet because awwwww sapphic love, but it’s always negated by yet another Harperism.
Example: when Harper doesn’t stick up for Abby when she’s accused of shoplifting. Not even a simple “I believe Abby,” just a “Stay at the house while I go to dinner with my family, and then it’ll blow over.” Right, Harper, because you definitely have a family that lets shit go.
Spoiler: there will be more Harperisms to come.
Just when Abby finally starts to get comfortable, she gets a message from Harper to come to hang out with her friends. It’s like Harper has a signal that goes off to alert her that Abby is managing to smile, so it’s time for her to cut that shit out. This scene, right here, solidified Harper’s status as a supervillain to me. It can’t be a coincidence that Abby was in a very LGBTQ+ friendly space with Riley before getting that text.
That text was about as stinky as cat piss, by the way, because Harper actually spends ZERO time with Abby when she leaves her one instance of fun to meet with Harper. Not only does Harper leave her at the bar to spend time with her old friends (not including Abby in the festivities), but when Abby calls it a night because she’s tired, Harper stays out until 2 AM drinking with her friends AND her ex-boyfriend—because she, for some reason, agreed to spend time with him?!
Before I get to the next Harperism, because there’s way too many to count, here’s a doozy: Riley reveals to Abby why she and Harper broke up. Abby thinks it’s a case of first-time girlfriends drifting apart because, well, that’s what Harper told her, because of course she did—LOL to the highest common denominator. Turns out Harper outed Riley in high school, telling everyone that her affections were one-sided when, in reality, they were dating in secret.
Just … WOW!
That’s a pretty shitty dumpster fire of a woman there, but let’s pour some gasoline on those flames, because when Abby confronts Harper about being out all night, Harper has the N E R V E to say that Abby is suffocating her.
Ma’am. I already thought Abby should’ve walked away from your ass ten minutes into the movie, but you’re making me want to Cashapp her the $1000+ she needs to call an Uber home. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to shell out the cash, because John (Dan Levy) proves to be the gay best friend of the century by driving up to get Abby. At this point, Abby’s more than ready to leave, but Harper chases after her with the power of white woman tears and that “I’m not hiding you; I’m hiding me” line from the trailer.
Harper. That would’ve been way more effective if not for all the shit you did before this point.
This is where I actually think the audience gave me more hope than the movie itself. Before I watched this movie, I saw a lot—and I mean a LOT—of “Harper is trash” takes. They are definitely deserved, and I’m so glad that people can see that. There’s this thing that happens with queer media where we’re expected to just accept whatever we’re given. Had this movie come out years ago, I’m sure there’d be a lot more sympathy for Harper, more “she’s closeted and scared” takes that negate the hour of emotional abuse she puts her partner through.
Hell, I may have ignored Harper’s moldy hamburger patty behavior if I watched this a decade ago. As it stands, though, I can acknowledge the fact that Harper is closeted and scared but also a complete asshole. Put this story on the AITA Reddit and social media would have a FIT about Harper’s behavior … more than they already have.
The thing that I wrestle with in regards to this movie is that it does have some really nice messages. John’s dialogue to Abby about everyone’s coming out story being different is spot-on. Harper’s mother lamenting the fact that they’ve tried so hard to be perfect that they’ve isolated their children is a necessary moment of character growth (and just a thing that some parents need to be told about themselves). But Harper herself is terrible. While she does realize the error of her ways, I’m not sure I like the fact that Abby forgives her so easily.
That’s just my personal opinion, though, as someone coming from the perspective of being relegated to roommate status for my own survival when going into queer-unfriendly spaces. I couldn’t help but think about how bad things could’ve been for me had my wife done what Harper did to Abby. I couldn’t help but realize that this is very much a story that does happen to queer folks under the guise of “I’m closeted and scared.”
When John tells Abby that everyone’s story is different, he’s right, but that dialogue ignores the full weight of what Harper did. Abby’s not uncomfortable because of a mutually decided roommate story; she’s uncomfortable because Harper lied about her standing with her parents, created this story on her own to the point of revealing traumatic information about Abby to her parents, and continued to be unsupportive toward Abby the entire time she was there up until the point where she lost her.
You can’t pull someone into the closet with you, especially after LYING about your closeted status, then leave them to fend for themselves with the people you’re hiding from. You’re clearly hiding from them for a reason. Why would you abandon your partner at a time like this?
That’s why, in my mind, this movie is the perfect “what not to do” tutorial for LGBTQ+ relationships, even if, deep down, I would’ve preferred that Harper didn’t get Abby back so easily, or at all. I think it would’ve been a perfectly fine message to have Harper realize the full extent of her actions and how Abby’s discomfort wasn’t just because she was hiding, but because she was being a bee-word for the entirety of their stay together.
Yes, Harper calls herself out, but after days of Abby being near tears every second, I think it would’ve been fine to have a “forgiveness has to be earned” or even a “practice self-love this Christmas by walking away from toxic people” message. As it stands, the movie ends on a happily ever after that many will take comfort in, because yeah, seeing the perfectionist dad choose family and the fantasy writer sister who was constantly written off as a joke get her book deal is nice, I just don’t think Harper’s earned that engagement ring that we see on her finger as the movie ends.
But that’s what fanfic and headcanons are for, right?
Happy holidays, my fellow gays. Please don’t treat your partners like Harper treated hers.
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