There’s a lot to talk about in Happiest Season, Clea Duvall’s new LGBTQ+ Christmas rom-com for Hulu. A lot of it is good. Some of it warrants real criticism. Almost all of it is gay. But there’s one element of this film that is absolutely, unimpeachably perfect. And that … that is Mary Steenburgen’s giant iPad. The real star of the film. (Warning: Spoilers ahead. I apologize if you consider this iPad reveal to be a spoiler. Get over it, Scrooge.)
From the moment Harper (Steenburgen’s closeted daughter, played by Mackenzie Davis) walks through the from door with her “roommate” Abby (Abby is played by Kristen Stewart, which is to say she’s no roommate), Steenburgen is in their faces with her iPad. She’s snapping photos for her husband (Victor Garber) who is running for mayor and trying to build an Instagram brand. There is something so funny and so extremely 60-something about a mother using a big ol’ iPad as a camera. She’s tech-savvy enough to operate the thing, but not quite capable of realizing the window pane–size object is probably not the best tool for the job. So much in this movie is beyond the scope of reality. Harper and Abby live together and are on the brink of getting engaged, but Harper’s lying to Abby about being out to her family? There’s just no way. But Mary Steenburgen spending an hour and change chasing around her adult children with an oversize Apple product is a very particular portrait of an aging parent in 2020. One that feels accurate.
Steenburgen — whose character I am sure had a name but really, I can only remember her as “mom” — is obsessed with getting a perfect photo for the family Christmas card. (Or really, the Christmas card Instagram post.) On the way to a fancy party, she gathers the family around the tree and hands the iPad to Stewart, who fails miserably at taking a decent photograph. Which, well, isn’t totally her fault. Have you ever tried to use a big iPad as a camera? They are clunky and awkward to position. Imagine holding up a fairly large book and then trying to keep it steady while tapping it to snap a photo. They’ll have to try to take the picture again another night, Steenburgen says, scrolling through the options and dismissing Stewart. (Though, honestly, there’s no world where this lady would let the group disband from the photo pose before checking to see if she’d gotten the shot.) She’s singularly obsessed with getting the photo, insisting if the family can’t get it together they don’t “deserve” to have the Instagram account. It could be a throwaway line, but Steenburgen’s commitment to the bit made me giggle. As though somebody had bestowed this Instagram account — which I’m sure has like, maybe, 100 followers — to her from on high. The almighty election-decider, Instagram. (Actually, uh, maybe she’s onto something there.)
In the end — and because this is a Christmas movie and you saw this coming a mile away — the photo gets taken Christmas morning. By … Dan Levy. Who has entered the chat (it’s a long story) and is fully able to operate the giant iPad. (Stewart, naturally, is in the photo after finally being welcomed into the family.) Everybody is in pajamas, and nobody looks very put together, but they all look very happy. The credits roll, accompanied by Instagram post after Instagram post from Steenburgen, who I can only assume got a new iPhone for Christmas. The giant iPad does not get billed alongside the cast. Weird … since it’s the star of the movie.