SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Happiest Season. If you have not yet seen the film, please read on at your own risk!
Clea DuVall's Happiest Season has been hailed as one of the best holiday films to be released in 2020, but the conclusion of the film has spurred a bit of controversy among fans. While some love the fact that Kristen Stewart's Abby winds up forgiving Mackenzie Davis' Harper and they get a "happily ever after" ending, there are also many who would have preferred to see Abby wind up with Aubrey Plaza's Riley instead. It has inspired a fair amount of back-and-forth on social media, but in circumstances like this it's always great to hear the filmmakers' perspective, and DuVall has explained why it is that she chose the finale that she did.
Following Happiest Season's release on Hulu last month, Entertainment Weekly asked Clea DuVall about the reaction that the film has generated in response to Abby's ultimate decision, and the writer/director went in depth explaining why her protagonist makes the decision she does. Addressing the love for Riley, she suggested that fans may want Abby to be with her simply because they love the character and Aubrey Plaza's performance. When it came to the core relationship of the movie, however, DuVall stressed the importance of forgiveness in the message she wanted to convey:
It’s understanding that sometimes you have to go low so you can figure out your way back up. And I understand the impulse to just cut and run, and be like, 'To hell with this.' But I also really believe that people can get better, people can grow, and people can change. They can recognize that maybe their behavior is not as good as they know it can be, and that they make a conscious effort to change it.
As Clea DuVall notes, it's easy as a fan of Happiest Season to let a kind of anger rule the day and see Abby spurn Harper at the end. After all, Harper's behavior towards her girlfriend when her family is around is downright mean at some points in the film, and Riley is not only exclusively nice to Abby, but also provides even more context that makes Mackenzie Davis' character not look so great. What can be forgotten within that, however, is the recognition that Harper A) should be allowed to be a flawed human being, and B) that she is put in a remarkably difficult/horrible situation by her family.
In the making of Happiest Season, Clea DuVall very clearly saw this opposing viewpoint, and it motivated her to make the choices that she made at the end of the story. Said the filmmaker,
I’ve spent four years with Harper — I feel like I understand her, and I love her so much. And I think she’s worth it. I want what’s best for all the characters in the movie. And I think the message that you can mess up, and that you can do the work and get better is really important. And be kind to yourself, and have compassion. Because I think compassion is in short supply.
Forgiveness for slights of the past is certainly a part of the holiday season tradition, and though it may be tricky, hopefully Happiest Season fans who wanted to see Abby and Riley end up together can understand why it's a good thing that Abby and Harper repair their relationship at the end.
For those of you who are looking to revisit the film, Happiest Season is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.