Welcome to the 14th installment of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight will shine on Abby Holland, one-half of the lead couple in Happiest Season.
Note: Some spoilers ahead for Happiest Season.
Happiest Season follows Abby and her girlfriend Harper Caldwell as they prepare to spend their first Christmas together with Harper’s family, something Abby is excited about despite her cynicism about the holidays in general. But soon Harper reveals a big secret she’s been hiding from Abby — Harper is not out to her family. They think Abby is just Harper’s roommate, and with Harper’s conservative father running for mayor, that cover story will have to remain intact until after the holidays are over. Caring deeply for Harper and wanting to support her, Abby reluctantly agrees to play along.
But in true rom-com fashion, nothing goes according to plan. Harper’s family is incredibly competitive, with Harper’s sister Sloane pushing her buttons from the moment they arrive (her other sister, Jane, is a quirky delight who deserves the world). Harper’s family (and, it should be said, Harper) treats Abby like an afterthought as they not-so-subtly push Harper towards a high school ex-boyfriend. This causes tension between Abby and Harper, especially when Abby meets Harper’s secret high school girlfriend Riley and finds out that back then, Harper outed Riley to keep her own sexuality a secret. Overwhelmed and feeling unloved, Abby has her friend John come to take her home while Harper tries to convince her to stay.
This sparks a massive fight between Harper and Sloane at the family Christmas party as Sloane realizes this is her chance to become the favorite daughter by revealing Harper and Abby’s relationship to the family. Harper publicly denies their relationship, which is the last straw for a heartbroken Abby. It’s nearly losing Abby for good that finally pushes Harper to come out to her family and reveal how their perfectionist expectations have affected her life (and Sloane’s too, as Sloane reveals she is getting a divorce in solidarity with Harper). Harper goes after Abby and tells her she wants to build a life with her, and the two reconcile.
Abby is a character who has viewers’ hearts from the start. Confidently queer and proud of who she is, Abby provides a refreshing presence on screen, particularly in a holiday romantic comedy. Her love for Harper and her supportive nature is clear immediately, as we see her set aside her hatred of the holidays to make a good impression on Harper’s family. She’s a romantic at heart despite her occasionally sarcastic exterior, whether she’s gushing about Harper with John or trying her best to fit into Harper’s world. It’s hard to watch her slowly recede into herself as everything she thought she knew about Harper is distorted and she’s forced to hide an essential part of herself.
But what’s most remarkable about Abby (and the film as a whole) is how much weight we see placed in Abby’s queer communities and found family. In any other rom-com, Riley’s arrival would consist of the ex-girlfriend trying to get revenge or ruin the central relationship. Instead, Riley offers Abby a space where she can drop the act in the form of a local gay bar, treating her to the drink she desperately needs and deserves at this point while they watch a fabulous drag performance by Em K. Ultra and Miss L’Teau (played real-life drag queens Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme). She even helps Abby pick out a great white elephant gift to help impress the impossible-to-please Caldwells.
And John is the support system Abby desperately needs, providing her guidance and perspective Abby is missing as someone whose parents embraced her without question when she came out. Even if Harper behaves badly towards Abby, John helps Abby see how being forced to hide who she is shapes Harper’s actions in a moving monologue that is the film’s best moment.
“Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version and everything in between. But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying. And then once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that. You can’t do it for anyone else. Just because Harper isn’t ready, it doesn’t mean she never will be and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.”
While Harper being in the closet does not excuse her actions, it does explain them, and the fear and anxiety she has around being her true self is relatable for many. Outside of the central romance, the strongest relationships we see are between Abby and her queer friends. That is a rarity, and the novelty of seeing a lesbian couple and their friends at the center of an otherwise fairly traditional fluffy holiday story is revolutionary in itself. As writer/director Clea DuVall told Thrillist, she wanted to make the type of holiday film she longed to see when she was younger.
“Christmas movies become a part of our lives in a way that other movies just don’t. Growing up watching Christmas movies as a LGBTQ+ person, I had never seen my experience represented. If there was any kind of LGBTQ character, they were in the background or tossed in to diversify an otherwise normal family. I always wished there was a movie where I felt represented, just a silent hope. As I transitioned into writing and directing, I realized I could make that movie that I had always wanted to see.”
Happiest Season is hopefully just the beginning of expanding the world of romantic comedy to include the LGBTQIA+ community in prominent roles. Abby offers viewers a rarely seen viewpoint of an out lesbian woman who has queer friends and a community to fall back on, and the film itself should be commended for exploring a variety of LGBTQIA+ experiences.
Happiest Season is available on Hulu. Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Pride Spotlight!