At least it has Dan Levy.
Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart) is invited to spend Christmas with the family of her girlfriend Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis). Abby tells her best friend John (Dan Levy) that she considers this to be a positive sign for their relationship. Unfortunately, right as the two are getting to Harper’s hometown, Harper reveals that her family is very conservative and that she is in the closet. She’s told her family that the two are roommates and asks Abby to pretend during the holidays. Abby meets Harper’s parents, Ted and Tipper (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen), and her sisters, Sloane and Jane (Alison Brie and Mary Holland), with all of the introductions suitably uncomfortable. It quickly gets more awkward when Abby meets Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley (Aubrey Plaza) and her ex-boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman). Hijinks ensue.
I’m not going to say too much about this film because I decided to leave it to someone with more insight into the type of relationship that is the focus of the film, but I can say that I didn’t end up liking this movie. I’ll admit that my expectations were high when I saw the trailer to this film and looked up the cast, because these are all talented people. Moreover, I’d just finished Schitt’s Creek and I was begging for more Dan Levy in my life and I’ll never say no to more Aubrey Plaza. In defense of that pair in particular, their characters were two of the absolute brightest spots in the film, but the rest of the cast were mostly given absolutely unlikable characters.
Ted and Tipper are supposed to be a conservative political pair, but Ted comes off as borderline sociopathic about his mayoral race and Tipper is often downright mean to Abby, a person who, to her knowledge, is just a friend of her daughter. Sloane is similarly mean to a stranger. Jane is nice, but is ostracized from her family for apparently not being neurotypical. Then there’s Harper. I looked forward to Mackenzie Davis playing another semi-closeted queer character since she was in the great “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, but it turns out that her chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw did NOT translate to Kristen Stewart. Moreover, Harper’s character is not just unlikable, she’s almost irredeemable within the movie. She has lied to her girlfriend apparently for months, invites her on a trip at the last minute, makes Abby change her plans in order to accommodate her, proceeds to ignore her or just ask her to deal with stuff, and is revealed to have ruined one of her exes’ lives. It’s even worse because Harper sells Abby on this grand image of waking up together on Christmas, knowing that they would not be able to sleep in the same bed in her family’s house. She promises a big, close, romantic experience and delivers basically none of it. She’s the Fyre Festival of girlfriends.
Overall, I almost want to tell people to watch this film for Dan Levy, but honestly, I would just wait until someone makes a supercut of Dan Levy being amazing on YouTube.
The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives On My Sofa
I told my friend I was watching this film and referred to it as a “holigay movie.” That’s a thing we have now! There are at least two! So I am very glad for that! This just wasn’t what I and a lot of other queer people were hoping for. It was very hard not to read everyone livetweeting this movie as soon as it was available, and I did feel like I was primed to be frustrated by it. Here are some good things about this movie: There are actual gay actors! Playing gay people! It was cowritten and directed by a queer woman! Dan Levy elevates every scene he’s in. In one he’s literally just reading the ingredients on a gas station snack, and I’m still riveted. Maybe it’s because I just finished Schitt’s Creek, but dang. More Dan Levy in movies, please. Aubrey Plaza’s understated and natural style is very refreshing in a movie filled with capital C Characters. The internet had pointed out the obvious screen chemistry between Aubrey Plaza and Kristen Stewart, and I have to agree. I’d like to see them together in a new movie. Maybe one that’s a little more feel-good?
I think this film got caught between trying to be a Christmas movie (sappy, silly, oh no a series of events has knocked the tree over), trying to be a “meet the parents” screwball comedy, and trying to convey realities of being a gay person navigating straight spaces and dealing with a partner who isn’t out to their family. I don’t think it’s impossible to combine these things. I’ve seen writing that moves between serious topics and comedy easily (Brooklyn 99 comes to mind) and this wasn’t that. It made it difficult to fully appreciate the ample comedic talent in this movie – for example, Lauren Lapkus and Timothy Simons get a brief comedic scene as mall cops which probably would have been funnier if we weren’t so upset and concerned by the previous scene. The Christmas tree does get knocked over. It’s just…you feel so bad for Abby (and precious cinnamon roll Jane!) all the time! It’s so hard to root for Abby and Harper when Harper commits so many relationship-ending offenses. And it’s hard to really enjoy the movie when many of the supporting characters are so unlikeable and cruel.
Because that’s the key ingredient in a Christmas rom-com – it has to have some of that sweet feel-good marshmallow sap, and this didn’t offer enough of that. It’s clear to me that many queer people are weary of narratives around sadness and hardship (see: the recent Supernatural backlash.) From reading interviews, I can tell that Duvall really wanted to convey some of the more difficult experiences in her life, and that’s admirable. Especially after this year, however, I think we were hoping for something a little warmer.
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