Happiest Season

This is a cute and clunky holiday film.

It has its moments and it’s got a strong cast, but “Happiest Season” doesn’t hold together well.

A film like this relies on its background players for injections of comedy, but here the actors in the secondary roles are asked to make mediocre jokes pop. They mostly rise to the occasion, but there’s only so much they can do with sub-par material. Case in point: Abby (Kristen Stewart) is interrogated by two mall security guards (Timothy Simons and Lauren Lapkus). This scene should be a highlight—I was waiting for Simons to show off those “Veep” skills—but it falls apart and offers nothing memorable.

There are bright spots: Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza are excellent and “Happiest Season” is proof they each deserve opportunities for larger movie roles. Mackenzie Davis continues to be great in everything (she’s the best thing about “Terminator: Dark Fate” and that role is a huge departure from “Halt and Catch Fire,” where she’s also fantastic). And there are clever bits in the story about a fantasy novel and digital tracking that both pay off.

“Happiest Season” was originally scheduled for a theatrical release, but COVID-19 messed that up and the film moved to Hulu. I’ve got a theory that digital releases–for now, at least–carry lower expectations because people don’t need to invest theater-level amounts of time and energy to see them. “Happiest Season” might have been a disappointment in theaters, but at home it’s a novel diversion.

Alison Brie deserves better: I don’t know if Brie gravitates toward Type A characters barely holding it together or if it’s typecasting (I tend to think it’s typecasting). “Glow” and “Community” showed she can do a lot more, yet in “Happiest Season” she’s once again stuck playing a cold overachiever on the brink.