Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to actress/screenwriter Mary Holland about Happiest Season’s passionate fans and what she thinks of the discourse around the film.
When Twitter has something to say about your movie, you know you’ve arrived. And this past fall, during the weekend in which Happiest Season dropped on Hulu, many fans took to social media to vent their same thought: Why didn’t Abby (Kristen Stewart), the girlfriend who was forced to stay in the closet with Harper (Mackenzie Davis) for a family holiday, end up with Riley (Aubrey Plaza)?
Co-screenwriter Mary Holland, who also plays Jane, couldn’t have predicted this reaction to the film, co-written and directed by fellow actress Clea Duvall, just as she couldn’t have predicted Happiest Season would come out during a global pandemic. But in the end, as I discovered in my conversation with Holland, everything worked out for the best, for both the film and its characters.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on Happiest Season. I actually live in Pittsburgh, so it’s exciting to see my city on film. What was it like filming there for you?
Mary Holland: We loved it! We loved Pittsburgh. It was so much fun. We lived right in the Strip District, so we were near all of these great restaurants. All the locations that we shot at for the movie—it was just perfect. Such a fun place to be for two months. We had such a great time.
AD: That’s great. The Strip District is a lot of fun. As an actress that’s written her first film, did you and Clea Duvall take your acting experience into consideration when writing, writing characters you’ve always wanted to play? Or writing characters that would be fulfilling to play for actors?
MH: Yeah, I can speak for myself with that. We wrote Jane for me to play. I requested to play her. (Laughs) That was pretty early in the writing process, so I definitely feel like in crafting that character, a lot of what I had in mind was like, this would be such a fun character to play. She’s so close to me, to who I am, and what a joy as an actor to get to step into a part that’s close to you. It’s really fun.
AD: I keep saying that I need a spin-off film from Jane or the same movie from Jane’s point of view—although there are so many points of view that would be interesting in the film. She appears to have a complicated relationship with her family, too. What would a Jane spin-off look like?
MH: What a treat, first of all, to get to do that. I feel like at the end of Happiest Season, Jane feels supported by her family and celebrated by them. They do see her at long last. Jane is already so confident and has such an abundance of self-love and she has no problem being who she is, that I feel like now that she has the support of her family and is buoyed by that, I feel like the sky’s the limit. There’s nothing she can’t do.
AD: And she’s working on her book, too!
MH: I think she’s gonna expand her book series. Who knows? Maybe she’ll sign some movie deals for it. We’ll see. I’m keeping everything crossed.
AD: Fans of the film have had passionate reactions about everything, but about the family, to. In the age of Trump, do you think depicting a conservative family has become more controversial?
MH: That’s a great question. It is so interesting how that label has shifted over the years, even our understanding of what the term conservative means. “Conservative” to me five years ago was something so different than it is now. (Laughs) I think our goal in portraying the Caldwells was to really show Harper’s background and how the kind of openness that Jane really embodies is not totally the norm. (Laughs) They’re operating by these expectations in a lot of cases that are self-imposed, expectations of being perfect, having a good reputation, a good image, and all that stuff. I think there’s something about that that is universally relatable. You can really see it in a more conservative setting, but I think that idea of being scared that you’re not perfect or unsure if you’re gonna be accepted, I feel like that is a pretty universal thing that everybody can relate to.
AD: That’s definitely true. The other thing that everyone’s talking about online—what do you think about all of the discourse that Abby (Kristen Stewart) should have ended up with Riley (Aubrey Plaza)? What do you think of that as one of the film’s screenwriters?
MH: I so appreciate the conversation that’s happening, and it’s really great to see so many people so invested in these characters and really caring about the story. It just feels amazing, to have the movie be talked about and invested in in that way. Clea and I always wanted Harper and Abby to have a happy ending, and we didn’t shy away from showing that honest experience and how tough those few days were for both Abby and Harper. But ultimately they were able to come through it and come together, and Harper was able to finally be her authentic self with her family. At the end, she and the woman she loves get to get engaged. Another thing to keep in mind—I’ve heard Clea talk about this and it’s such a great point—there is a one-year chyron between Christmas morning and when we see them and they’re engaged. In that year, there are a lot of conversations that are happening and a lot of processing. I don’t think they got engaged the next day. This is serious, committed long-term relationship. They’ve been together for years. We’re seeing them on a really tough week in their relationship. Clea and I loved that they ended up together. But listen, Aubrey is beautiful. What are you gonna do? Everybody is in this movie, quite frankly.
AD: Right! I know.
MH: I understand that people are very drawn to her character, and I really appreciate that people are talking to each other about it.
AD: I’m sure that’s fun to see that kind of response.
MH: It feels really rewarding to put this creative project out into the world and have people really engaging with it. It’s the best.
AD: Before the pandemic struck, this film was slated to be released in theaters, being a rare holiday film about a same-sex female couple. Is there any bittersweetness that it wasn’t able to hit theaters, even if it’s experiencing much success on Hulu?
MH: In a way, yes, of course, we would have loved to have seen it in theaters and for people to be able to go out and have a movie-going experience, especially after the entire year. But there’s something really special and perfect and beautiful and we’re so grateful to Hulu for supporting this project and streaming it, because it is a movie that the image of people safe in their homes with their families, curled up and watching this—what a perfect way for people to experience this. It actually feels absolutely just right. And it’s also now so widely accessible to so many people; that also feels really positive and great. I think it worked out the way it was meant to this year. I’m so glad that we’re able to put it out into the world this year, because we need it. We need a movie like this.
AD: Yeah, I agree. One last question: Are you working on any other scripts?
MH: I’m collaborating with a couple of other friends, and ideas are always being worked on in varying degrees. Yes, there are some other scripts that are in the works, and fingers crossed, we’ll get to make those, too.
Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.