This Stupendous Weirdo Has Watched Happiest Season Every Day in December
We chat about the Oxwood-Fratty's whiplash moment, the point of pointless odysseys, and a case is made for Happiest Season being a psychological thriller
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This week, I chatted with my good friend Samee Junio, who, as a self-dare, has watched Hulu’s Happiest Season every single day for the month of December. Spoilers abound, but I think it’s an enjoyable conversation whether you’ve seen it or not.
JS: So I wanted to talk to you for a variety of reasons, but also because what you are doing right now is watching Happiest Season.
The Clea Duvall directed, Clea Duvall and Mary Holland penned, Kristen Stewart star vehicle, and what's the other woman's name?
Mackenzie Davis. I watched it with my mother last night, and my dad came in from something he was doing and watched probably the last half hour and asked a lot of questions.But you have been watching it every day for the past how many days?
Twenty three days!
So you've seen it twenty five times already.
Twenty four because I haven't watched it today yet.
So we should say for any readers it is a Netflix, or I'm sorry Hulu Holiday rom com.
It is a queer love story.
A... coming out parable?
How would you describe it? Maybe I’m not the one who should be introducing it.
Nononono, it's always interesting. I think you got it. I wouldn't say it's a love story. I'd say it's a coming out story. Um. Yeah. I think that's it.
So. Not a love story. It's a coming out story.
I think so yeah.
So I think we'll get into what we both think about it, but I appreciate you saying that because, until the conversation between Kristen Stewart and Dan Levy in the driveway after the holiday party commotion, I was like this is a pretty straightforward holiday romcom.
There's the level of "representation matters" that's like, "We need to be telling stories from all cross-sections of life," and then there's the “Representation matters” that's like "We need not just straight cis white men to be able to make mediocre movies."
And it's not mediocre. Mary Holland's amazing. Everyone was very funny in it. But the driveway talk was the first moment I felt that was a conversation I hadn't seen at least in the mainstream. It felt like a new layer added to the discussion of coming out as it is discussed in very mainstream culture.
Maybe that's just my ignorance as someone who hasn't had to do that.
No, I think that's very important, and I definitely overlooked that part. Because I honestly felt like this movie didn't really change any conversations other than "Oh, now white gays are a little bit represented in holiday movies." Which is great.
[Laughs] Absolutely. So, more on that in a second, but first, you're watching it every day. What's your history in doing daily stunts? Because you've done a few of them.
[Sighs] I do so many, and nobody asks for them. And I don't even have a certain number of people in this box, but once a lot of people get like demand-y about it? That's when I stop.
So I did the pizza challenge, and I stopped because my body was shutting down. That was 2016. I tried to eat 1,000 pizza slices in the year, which really boiled down to 3 pizza slices a day, and then if I skipped days, I would eat [laughs] more than 3 pieces of pizza a day.
And then I was doing this thing that was like my instagram Boyhood. I was filming as long as I could, back then I think it was ten seconds, of every hour of every day.
I did a good morning thing on instagram everyday for a little bit, and then I did a "Daily Reminders That I'm Gorgeous" for a little bit.
My rules are... there are hardly any rules, but I think that once I start a groove into something, I'm just like "Oh, this is becoming a daily thing.”
So you say you have no rules. Are you allowed to have it on in the background, or are you butt-in-seat as I like to call it?
For the first ten days, I was pretty engaged. But now I’m doing other things sometimes. Even the instagram Live I did a little bit ago, I did work while instagram living me watching the movie.
Is it making you happy?
You know? I think so. There's one scene that I don't miss every time I watch it. And that is the scene where Kristen Stewart's character Abby is in a queer bar with Aubrey Plaza's character Riley, and I think there are a lot of community feels in that scene. We can't gather [right now], and joyful queerness isn't shown a lot especially in mainstream media, so it just feels really, really nice and I like that scene very, very much.
Oh, I thought you were saying you didn't like it!
[Laughs] Hate it! Get me back into, what was the straight bar? Fratty's. [Laughs] Love a Fratty's. [Ed. Note: This sentence was pure sarcasm, just to be clear.]
There are some things where I'm just like, "Oh yeah, this is a 'movie' movie." it's easy to nitpick, like "Why would you make the sportswear called Fratty's? And it's because this is just a movie. Like, this is really a movie-ass movie.
It's sort of like the authentic human experience is an afterthought. You can tell the structure is there first.
But I think the best kind of movie-ass movies really insert the human experience in there effectively. So what's the feeling before and after? You must know the scene right before.
Abby is out on the street. She has been exiled from going to a party because she is thought to be a criminal [Laughs] so she's out on the street, and I don't know why they really focus on the Guthrie Theater with "It's a Wonderful Life" on the marquis, but she's looking at it and she's a little weepy, and it's also cold. You can't act as authentically cold as they were. Really, I have no idea.
So Abby runs into Riley, and they do a little friend flirt. And I'm saying friend flirt, but I feel like it's a flirt, but we can't always make every queer relationship romantic because that's unfair.
But yeah, then Abby's like, "I would like to drink some alcohol. Do you know where I can do that?"
And Riley's like, "Oh yeah, baby. I got you."
And it does look like a much more fun bar than Fratty's.
Augh. That tonal shift is so delicious and it is jarring and also like I went to an ex-girlfriend's hometown bar, and it felt like that so much that I almost texted her? But she's like married and responsible now, so I was like, "I won't. I won't do that."
But... I mean! I don't think that me texting her will do any sort of anything other than insult her. "Hey! You remind me of this terrible scene in Happiest Season!" [Laughs]
This is making me realize now, what's the bar they're in first?
The Oxwood. They are shouting out a historic gay bar.
As clear as they make it that Fratty's is not the place that you're supposed to be enjoying, now that I'm looking back, I'm like, "I've been in that bar that is a nightclub most of the time. And there aren't a lot of people there, but they're still tolerating that people are doing shots." I've been in those situations, and I've enjoyed them. I have my hometown version of that bar, and it’s not calledFratty’s, but it’s called Caddie's.
And I've definitely taken shots there. And I understand the ideal of "Oh, no, you gotta take shots." Conner's the ex boyfriend's name, right?
Conner for the most part means well.
Yeah, he's not a bad guy and I do appreciate that they didn't make him like a villain either.
But there is a certain amount of trauma I'm sure. Obviously, Kristen Stewart's character goes through trauma after trauma after trauma. But I know he's trying to be nice. I've been on both sides of that thinking.
On one end, you're the person who's like, if you can successfully sell this other person on the idea of doing a shot, you're actually making their night and their life bette. I've been in that mindset.
And that is a very fratty ideal, but I know I've been on the receiving end I'm pretty sure of you doing that as well. So it's not completely heteronormative. But there's something very oppressive about that. Not wanting to be drunk in a place and people forcing the drunkenness on you.
Sure. Sure. "Oh, you gotta catch up!" Uh, I don't think I need to, bud.
So thank you for pointing out that tonal shift.
It's beautiful. It blew my hair back on first viewing and it still does. I love it so much. There are these tiny moments throughout the movie that are like, "Ohh, that feels good." And that shift is so good! It's like a slap in the face.
What part of it do you think you won't miss?
[Laughs] So the entire secondary character?
Yeah. Will not miss Harper.
So... just to recap. There's a movie that you watch every day that you'll miss. And the part of it that you won't miss is sort of the center of the plot of the movie.
For everyone reading, I need to make clear that you said that very quickly. You said “Harper” immediately as if you know that there's a very large part of this movie that you don't like.
Would you like to explain that?
Okay, I think the swiftness was partially a joke. I will not actually miss having to sit down and try to not do anything for two hours when I have such a busy brain and am easily distracted by my phone slash addicted to it. But I won't miss her. She's just bad behavior all around, and there's one big scene that is completely irritating and very hurtful towards Abby.
But I will also not miss the fact that I know that Clea DuVall wrote this character with the goal of redeeming her behavior. I won't miss that, because I think that's just really awful. yeah, I mean, it is a love story. It's a holiday love story that exists already, but I have so many issues with how love and romance is portrayed in mainstream media.
It's really unfortunate that they still played into that stuff.
Well, so what is the scene you were talking about?
After Fratty's, Abby stays up a little bit worried about when Harper is coming home. She come home at 2, Abby goes upstairs to check on here, they have a fight. She says Abby is suffocating her and they need a break from this trip that she forced Abby into after months of lies!
Right. And that did feel very tortuous. It also felt like, "Yeah, that's the kinda crazy shit people do."
That is exactly the kinda crazy shit people do.
And you can tell they're living in two separate realities of the situation. Probably because of the lies, it's mostly on Harper. But they don't have all the same information. Do you have any empathy for Harper in that situation? Because Harper is totally on the wrong side of it, but I see that and I think, "Oh, that's someone who is not good at communicating in a relationship."
Oh yeah, at all.
Yeah. And the stakes aren't normally that high. Except for the fact that she's this ambiguous investigative journalist.
Yeah, she should have some handle on talking.
I'm never sure what to do with stories like that. The character is totally wrong, but also sort of at an emotional deficit.
I really think in my ideal ending, Harper deals with her stuff and her trauma and her relationship with her parents without having to traumatize someone else. Because now they've stayed together and we're led to believe they're married. Now Abby has to help her through that, when I think it's probably something you should deal with by yourself.
Trauma bonding is something that I have a really, really big issue with especially in relationships and new relationships. They've only been dating a year when we zoom into their story, and Trauma bonding in general is just like, it's so toxic and unhealthy, and it's one of the things that we're privy to in every romantic movie.
You don't have to struggle with someone in the beginning of your relationship to make it be a good relationship. It really just makes you turn a blind eye to a lot of very obvious red flags.
I've never thought about that. Stories rely on conflict, so every relationship you've ever seen represented in media is only one specific type of relationship, which is one that has had to go through a lot to get to a good place. And you're saying that it's a problem because then people think that's the only way to do it.
Exactly, it just makes no sense. And also, once you get over the mountain of whatever conflict you go through, later on, when you have an irritation with your person or whatever, and you have an opportunity to walk away or not, you're like, "Ah, well, we went through that thing together-"
"That thing was harder than this!"
Yeah, it creates a really weird kind of emotional jail for people. Just take care of your own shit by yourself! When you have an emotional burden, there are other people you can talk to. It's just so much. At the end of the movie, when Harper's like, "You're the only person I care about and you're my family and blablabla," that is so fucking intense and so much pressure on Abby and it's just like, poor Abby. She lost her parents and now she has to deal with someone who can't have a normal relationship with her parents? It's just a lot.
And it's not only a Harper issue. It's an Abby issue... Anyhoodles, that's where I get frustrated with the movie for real.
So you were trailing off on the idea because I think you thought it was obvious, but maybe it's not obvious to me. It's an Abby issue because Abby should be protecting herself more than that? Abby keeps running back.
But Abby is doing so much of the emotional work of the relationship.
She's being very dutiful, but even in the car scene, when they're going to Harper's parents house, and Harper's like, "Oh by the way, I've been lying to you, my bad."
She also puts so much pressure on Abby when she says, "You know what? This is also going to be a great opportunity, because when they meet you, a gay--" Wait no! She's not even allowed to be gay. "If they meet you and they love you, then that'll make my coming out easier.
She's like, "Let me put all of this stuff that "One" I've lied to you about, and that I've held inside my entire life, and when I come out, it'll be on you too." So make sure you're good to them as well. Because if not, my coming out's not gonna be that great. It's just a whole bunch of pressure, and Abby's like, "Okay! let's tackle this together. We can do it!"
That whole moment paints her character as someone who is always getting the two of them through things, whether it's her problem to solve or not. And she does wind up doing that.
[Laughs] She really does!
So it's sort of like a psycho-drama being paraded as a rom-com. Have you seen Force Majeure?
[Here, I explain the avalanche-centric plot of Force Majeure. Google if you haven't seen] So their relationship gravitates around this fight, and I think anyone who is an adult and has been in relationships that have worked or haven't worked knows those fights that makes you question the nature of you, the relationship, the other person.
There's an artist who just released an album called Anime, Trauma, and Divorce. His name is Open Mike Eagle. He has a song, I don't remember the title, but the lyrics are "A Black Mirror episode ruined my marriage." And he talks about how there was an episode they watched and they were sitting in silence after. There doesn't even need to be an avalanche to make you question all of the choices in your relationship.
Yeah! We all know I'm against reboots and remakes in general, but maybe we need an immediate remake of Happiest Season produced by Jordan Peele, directed by Samee Junio.
There would be a lot more people of color in it.
[Laughs] That too.
Yikes! What I really wanna do is find another holiday movie that has the same holiday movie and see if they have the same beats right in the same place, that'd be kind of fun.
I bet most holiday movies celebrate the traumas people put each other through to make bad relationships work.
Especially in front of their parents.
Yeah! And it's especially maybe frustrating when it's coupled with a coming out story, which is already a potentially traumatic experience.
And now that I'm thinking about it, I don't know that it's a coming out story either. I mean, she comes out at the end.
Right. I said at the beginning it was, but I'm a dumb straight, so I don't know whether that was... maybe anyone else would say that was the tackiest way to put it they ever heard.
I don't know. Because you think about how in a love story, they fall in love at the end. Or the process of falling in love happens throughout the movie, but at the end, they're like, "Oh, I love you. I love you." And that happens at the end.
So I guess it is a coming-out story, but it's not necessarily because they don't really highlight Harper's struggle with it because she's not necessarily the main, main character.
I feel like they try to save it by having Harper deny it when her sister outs her at the party, and then she gets to make the choice later, but that gets back to your frustration with Clea Duvall writing it so that Harper was a character that deserved to be redeemed, you said.
She doesn't. She deserves empathy! But she does not deserve to be married to Abby after traumatizing her so much. So much! Even in the beginning of the movie, she is trying to force Christmas on Abby and we can only assume that Abby has told her that the reason she doesn't like Christmas is that her parents were very into it and then they passed away, so she's like, "You know what? Christmas makes me really uncomfortable." And then Harper's like, "EUGH! I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU DON'T LIKE CHRISTMAS.” [Ed. Note: Samee did a great impression of Harper whining here.] And that's like another thing about codependency. When you don't have someone else, when you only have one person to shove all of your interests on, they're not allowed to not love anything that you like. It's a lot. It's so much. I have so many feelings. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I knew that, when you do these daily challenges, there's something very specifically anti-logical about them, so I knew that we wouldn't get to a center of, "Oh yeah, this is why I did it. This is how it makes me feel. This is what I hope to get out of it." But! I feel like we are diving in at all the different angles that intersect with your experience of it.
Yeah, I think if we sat down with each other at the beginning of December, I'd just be like, "Oh yeah, I'm just doing this for fun. It's really silly. I don't care if it has it's flaws. Representation is representation. And I like the people who are in it, and I know people that are in it. So why not support what's going on?"
And now I'm in too deep.
Do you think you would be as protective of Abby if she wasn't Kristen Stewart?
If it was reversed? I think so. I think i would be as protective of the Abby character no matter who plays it. Good question, though.
Would you be as dismissive of the Harper character if it was played by Kristen Stewart?
Yes, I feel like the situation is toxic enough for me to clearly have a hero and a villain in my heart.
This is really grand. I think a lot of people, if quizzed after the movie, would say maybe the mom is the villain. But you're saying Harper is the villain.
She's doing so much damage. [Laughs] This is an action movie.
This is an action psycho-thriller. I know I'm gonna have to watch it again. And you literally have to watch it again.
How do you feel about Riley [Harper's ex who we learn Harper outed in high school]?
My partner said something when we watched it together one time which was really so eye-opening.
Riley's a very confident character. She's confident and well-spoken, she's a fucking doctor. And [my partner] was just like "I bet you that she's so cool and confident because of how fucked people were to her after idiot Harper outed her to her entire class." Despite all of the teasing and probably homophobia she had to face, she still ended up confident and strong. And forgiving! She has to see Harper's family every year because she loves the Christmas party? That's wild!
Not even that. It's because Riley’s own family, it seems like, forces her into the holiday party. I think she's a nice foil to show, like you're saying, that it didn't have to be this way. She has the same family pressures.
Although... Harper outed Riley. Oh man. There's so much... Harper thinks it's so bad when it happens to her--
She did it already.
Harper really is bad.
Harper is a fuck. She's an actual fuckhead. It's so wild.
But she's bad in a way that she has to work through stuff. Like, maybe Hans Gruber, I don't know if he has to work through stuff. He's a terrorist. There's probably stuff that happened to people in his country or his family.
Well, you know, he's also closeted! His behavior is actually warranted [laughs] because he's so frustrated [Ed. Note: Samee had a very funny way of saying “frustrated” here].
Well, is there anything that we haven't covered that you want to say?
This is a question for you. I generally have a pretty good radar for when movies are poorly written. Is this movie poorly written? I feel the dialogue is fun and there's nothing that they say that is glaringly ham-fisted one way or the other, but also I'm too deep in it.
I’m sure Clea Duvall and Mary Holland have written screenplays, produced or not, that are more honestly written, more authentically written. But this is well-written in the sense that the execs are gonna love it, the audiences are gonna love it.
So is it a perfectly written movie? Hell, no. I think there are plenty of boring and all over the places choices that were made by good writers because they wanted to make a Netflix holiday movie. I'm sure they wanted it to go to Netflix. There's no way they wrote this, thinking "Hopefully, our holiday movie gets bought by Hulu!"
No, they were trying to write a Netflix holiday movie and Netflix passed and Hulu got it.
But it really is still a Hallmark Christmas movie. Those aren't meant to be written well. It's like reading the side of a cereal box. This isn't supposed to be Hemingway. This is supposed to provide certain pieces of information in a certain amount of time.
Right. Everything's supposed to be buttoned up by Christmas. And it's definitely not supposed to be watched thirty days in a row.
Catch the last few days of Samee’s jouney own instagram @it_your_sam. Buy merch with their face on it at www.sameejunio.com. And finally, Samee is many things, including Technical Director of the Dynasty Typewriter theater. Check out their digital shows calendar here.
And if you’re not sick of me talking to a friend for an hour, catch up on I Need You To See This, my podcast with Joe Cabello where we try to fix the world by complaining.
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Until next week and now next year!