Be honest. How pained is your smile at the thought of a cheerfully low-budget American indie comedy as an early Christmas gift? Don’t be hasty. You may want to live with the playfully old-fangled Happiest Season a while before you reach for the receipt.
The backdrop is festive, the heroine the lovestruck Abby, played by Kristen Stewart, the sliver of Grinch in her soul forever undone by girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis). It only dissolves further at an invitation to her sweetheart’s family seat for the holidays. Her plan to propose when she gets there dies a death, however, when Harper confesses she has never quite come out to the folks (brightly lacquered, expensively patrician).
The premise could play as tragedy or farce. At first, director Clea DuVall goes squarely after the laughs. The result is spry, subversive, occasionally delirious. The relative high gloss doesn’t hurt. (Most American movie comedy is ugly as if on principle.) Still, the collective trump card is the cast, a comic supergroup of percussive excellence, Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber the Type A parental unit, Alison Brie a manically rivalrous sibling. There is at least one very good joke at the expense of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Hovering like a benevolent wasp in the first half of the movie, DuVall goes for the heartstrings in the second. Now it is Stewart who proves the ace, a functional comedian but fine romantic lead. It takes no small nerve for a contemporary Christmas movie to flat-out namecheck It’s a Wonderful Life. No little skill to remind us it can be.
On digital platforms from November 26